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Radio review: Isy Suttie’s Love Letters; Tell Me On a Sunday; The Olivier Awards 2014 with Michael Ball

Stand-up, actor, writer, composer and musician Isy Suttie has already won a Sony Radio Academy award, but while I have been familiar with her work in the theatre and on television (particularly Channel 4’s Peep Show), the return of her series Isy Suttie’s Love Letters is the first opportunity I have had to hear her in action.

Suttie’s intention is to use dialogue and song to recall love stories affecting people she has known throughout her life, while also throwing in a few anecdotes about her own experiences on the relationship rollercoaster.

In the first of four programmes, the performer returned to her hometown of Matlock in Derbyshire. With work a little sparse following a brief stint playing a “rat, frog, duck and crack addict” in a children’s show, Suttie spent a few days working as a teaching assistant at a local primary school.

It was here that she sensed a budding romance between dinner lady Eleanor and teacher Mr Woodfield as they discussed their enthusiasm for poetry in the playground (it turned out that the former had far more knowledge about the subject).

Carried away by their feelings, and encouraged by Suttie, Eleanor and Mr Woodfield – both of whom were unhappily married – planned a trip to Paris, although the transport arrangements didn’t quite go to plan.

This really was a perfect piece of radio – subtle and simple, witty and funny, bittersweet and touching. Yes, there were a few easy laughs to be had when Suttie was first testing out the voices for her characters, but there was no evidence of showboating. Instead, her humour was gentle, quirky and beautifully observed.

It was only a month or so ago that Suttie was appearing in her first ever musical, playing Phyllis Pearsall (the creator of the London A-Z) in The A-Z of Mrs P at the Southwark Playhouse. A somewhat more experienced musical theatre artist could be heard on Easter Sunday returning to a role with which she will always be associated. BBC Radio 2’s broadcast of Marti Webb’s recent performance in Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On a Sunday at London’s St James Theatre was not just a treat to listen to, but could also be counted as theatre history in the making – the actress first appeared in the show more than 30 years ago.

Beforehand, Anneka Rice was on-hand to chat to Black and Lloyd Webber about how the show came about and their longstanding affection for the score. Lloyd Webber explained how much he had enjoyed the opportunity to write about an “ordinary girl” from north London, having just completed the music for Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Both Rice and Webb also popped up during Radio 2’s coverage of The Olivier Awards 2014 with Michael Ball, Webb having been nominated for Tell Me On a Sunday in the best musical revival category.

Having attended the awards in addition to watching the edited highlights on ITV1, I didn’t imagine that this two-hour programme being broadcast a week after the big night would offer anything new. However, the package turned out to be rather well edited, combining comments from Ball in the studio, excerpts from the ceremony itself, and Rice’s backstage interviews with the winners. There was an even a well-informed contribution from The Stage’s Mark Shenton, who considered which plays and musicals could win big in 2015.

Both Rice and Ball have a tendency to gush, but underlying all that is a passion for, and knowledge about, their subject matter, plus a relaxed presenting style that is easy to take for granted.
Hardly a week seems to go by nowadays when there isn’t a chance to see a new Hollywood film packed with increasingly ambitious, action-packed chase sequences. It is hardly a movie genre that one would associate with a family firm based in Sheffield back in 1903.

And yet, as film-maker Penny Woolcock described in The First Action Movie, it was the Mottershaws of the Sheffield Photo Company who created the four-minute, 10-shot Daring Daylight Burglary – believed to have influenced the classic Great Train Robbery. Alongside an excellent visual description of the movie, Woolcock spoke to members of the Mottershaw family about the professional and personal highs and lows their pioneering ancestors experienced in attempting to make their mark on a rapidly changing industry.

Isy Suttie’s Love Letters, R4, Wednesday, April 30
Tell Me On a Sunday, R2, Sunday, April 20
The Olivier Awards 2014 with Michael Ball, R2, Saturday, April 19
The First Action Movie, R4, Monday, April 28

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