Dangerous Visions 2016: Review: The Kraken Wakes part 1 (spoiler-free)

Kraken 1By John Wyndham, adapted by Val McDermid with music by Alan Williams

BBC Radio 4, May 28, iPlayer link here

Red fireballs that crash into the sea are just the start of a series of events that herald catastrophe…

The jewel in the crown of this year’s season of Dangerous Visions plays, The Kraken Wakes is something very different in terms of drama. It’s a play, but one where the music isn’t just part of the soundscape. Alan Williams’ music acts far more as an orchestral score does in a movie, particularly nowadays where – as a number of our recent interviews on this site with film composers shows – it’s an essential tool in the director’s arsenal for showing the audience what to feel. Interstitial sections aren’t simply a few bars to act as a musical page break – they’re much more involved in setting the emotional tone of the story. If you’ve watched the Hammer version of The Quatermass Xperiment you’ll feel in familiar territory.

Val McDermid doesn’t simply take the bare bones of Wyndham’s story and retell it in a 2016 context – she gets to the heart of the tale Wyndham was relating, retaining the key beats and the relationship at its heart between two journalists (Mike and Phyllis), but not hesitating to jettison or rework those parts that don’t speak to a 21st century audience as clearly. Wyndham wrote in 1953 at the height of the Cold War, and he makes his story relevant by referencing the tensions between East and West; we may be in a pseudo-Cold War with Putin at the moment, and McDermid uses that at times, but otherwise the world is in a very different place. All relevant technological advances are incorporated, as well.

Director Justine Potter gets terrific performances from all her cast, notably Tamsin Greig, Paul Higgins and Richard Harrington and given the production was performed as live with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra playing Williams’ score, there’s a slightly rawer quality that aids its verisimilitude. I’m sure I won’t be the only one hoping that a further performance may follow.

Verdict: Not to be missed. 10/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to read our interview with composer Alan Williams

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