Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 6/2/11 5:20 am
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What a superb return to form. Jago and Litefoot blast my doubts out of the water with their second story this series. Of course they do!
Here's a story that evokes my favourite piece of last year, the Theatre of Dreams. The Man at the End of the Garden flows with the magical spark of that wonderful fairytale title. Superb production work, with gorgeous sound design and direction, intercutting between fact, fiction, present and past, leave us mired in fantasy. Whilst the Theatre of Fantasy literally dropped our characters into the land of fiction (but not The Land of Fiction), The Man at the End of the Garden deftly uses mirroring of events between reality and a story, past and present to blur the boundaries of each one. Much like my favourites of the two past series (Theatre and Bellova Devil) it's a story which recognises the potential in its own magical nature. It's also a story, like those two, which embodies what Jago and Litefoot can be, because all of the three have an atmosphere unique to this series; none are stories that feel like Doctor Who.
That saying, I think, it's clear that Leela is a perfect fit for this story. If the series can put out a piece that feels inherently an archetype of itself and anything but a derivation of its parent show, then obviously the fear that Leela's presence must undermine J&L's identity is unfounded. She fits in a charm here, proving that whoever had the notion (I believe David Richardson's but I can't remember) that she would be perfect for this formula was a canny soul indeed. It helps that she's being written splendidly, with more strength, more wit and more humour than in the opener. She's great alone and on her own mission in the first half of the play, and better yet taking charge in the second half. Her scenes with housekeeper Mrs. Hitch are splendid works of character on both parts; I particularly love the sequence in which Hitch demands what Leela sees in her eyes, and Leela seems almost to read her mind, such is the understanding the two have of each other at that moment.
Joanna Monro's (I think?) performance as Mrs. Hitch is itself lovely. Guarded, caring, strict and tragic at different times, she fills a good character with great depth, making her deeply sympathetic and likely to be remembered long after the story ends.
Joanna Bacon and Eden Monteath (Again I apologise if I've got the cast backwards) as Naismiths old and young are solid includes as well. Certainly you don't doubt their relationship as loving mother and child. Eleanor serves mostly as narrator rather than character, but is great in both roles, and definitely gets a punch-the-air moment in the climax. Clara is of note as a child character who's actually not annoying at all, despite the fact she easily could have been. Her own elements of narration are as good as her mothers, and not slightly unearthly when they appear in the story, modulated and distorted by the breach in time.
Cheerful old Sergeant Quick only puts in a fleeting appearance this episode, before making his apologies by telegram (he's won a ham, delightfully), but I am really enjoying him this series, as it seems his path is striking out on his own initiative and independence as a burgeoning investigator of infernal incidents himself following some extensive involvement in the installments of last series.
Finally, George and Henry. I said of the last story that when their chemistry is at their best, you could happily listen to them doing nothing at all. Well they're back to old form here, with many a characterful line and plenty of that rich undercurrent of humour tugging at the cheeks. This story isn't particularly close to home for either of them, so they're filling more of an objective investigative role. The focal character drama this episode coming from the guest characters. Nonetheless, Jago and Litefoot fulfil that prime test of a great character, being utterly engrossing in their appearances, even in a scene or story which is not about them.
With a final note on the plot itself, beyond what I said earlier about the magical nature of the story being utterly immersive, and the strength of the story's individual identity, I should add that I'm hugely pleased that Matthew Sweet didn't feel the need to expound and elaborate on each detail, leaving some things to the intelligence of the listener and other things to remain a mystery. It's in no small part down to a commendable bravery in only explaining what needs to be explained that the magical mystique of the story is maintained.
What a rip-roaring reassurance of this redoubtable series' resplendence! A riposte to my reservations and a redoubling of my recognition, respect and regard! 9/10