Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Wake Review

The Wake opens with a short montage; ‘101 things you should know about Irving Braxiatel’, where Lisa Bowerman and Miles Richardson effectively recreate several scenes from the books to ensure all listeners are completely up to date with our remaining characters. Braxiatel met Bernice thousands of years in the future, he was there when she married Jason, he was there when she was alone and friendless, and then many years later he was there when Jason died….

What follows is a tribute by many characters to the late Jason Kane. This series of short consolations from a range of characters isn’t the only ‘talking heads’ section in The Wake, but it is the most successful. As a way to mark the passing of the range’s ‘arguable’ leading male, and also as a means to convey just how much of an effect this has had on Bernice, it pays dividends.

There isn’t so much of a plot here. Nothing of any consequence really happens until the last twenty minutes, when Bernice makes one of the most important decisions of her life. For the most part it’s about the characters sitting down for a second, taking stock and re-evaluating where they stand. Everything you may or may not have noticed building in the background for over two series finally gets its moment in the sun.

In that respect it’s very hard to criticise the majority of the play. As a character piece it is absolutely spot on, with both writing and acting of all characters in good form. It mixes bleak humour in with despair and it’s a real treat to see just how three dimensional all these characters have become. Yet, when the play does take steps to recapture our interest with action sequences, it somehow struggles. There’s a particularly misjudged scene where an army of robots attack the Collection, which when all is explained makes sense, but in the moment with horrible music and the aforementioned ‘talking heads’ direction just falls flat. It would be a poor action sequence in any Bernice Summerfield story but here it also seems somehow in bad taste.

A partial reason for this is that actually, in the end, Bernice and Braxiatel don’t quite have ‘that’ confrontation. They talk, and decisions are made with far reaching consequences, but there’s no definite evidence that Bernice ‘knows’ Brax was responsible, and no definite consequences for Brax aside from his loosing Bernice. It’s this sense of incompletion that holds the play back from greatness, and although it’s more realistic, the fact that this isn’t and ‘end’ but a ‘continuation’ is the same weakness of the last series finale as well.

At times the music is a bit schmaltzy, at times the story descends into slight melodrama, but in the main ‘The Wake’ is a solid release with many very touching moments. Lisa Bowerman’s portrayal as a grieving woman is spot on, and Miles Richardsons presence as lurking evil is perfect. Scenes like Doggles attempted rape strike right to the heart, showing what this series is capable of and treading ground few other Big Finish range have dared approach.

I can heartily recommend the Wake, but don’t expect it to be the conclusion the range deserves. This is a milestone release, a marking of the passing of one character, but Bernice as a brand goes on with her ever-elusive dance around Irving Braxiatel brought forwards as one of the biggest mysteries remaining.

9 / 10

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