Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

02/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

Fifty-two people lost their lives during the 2005 London bombings and Rachel Brooke-Taylor, a New Zealand doctor, eventually became the 53rd victim.

WARNING – Contains low-level offensive language 

The 53rd Victim by Pip Hall

 Listen duration53′ :24″  

Amy Tarleton as Rachel Brooke-Taylor
Nancy Brunning as Karyn Jennings
Gavin Richards as James
with Vivien Bell, Eddie Campbell, Susie Evans, Philip Ward, Kerryn Palmer, Bryony Skillington, Marilyn Milgrom, Ray Henwood and Peter Dennett. 

About Pip Hall
Pip Hall has worked as a full time writer in theatre, film and television since 1995, after graduating from the University of Otago with a degree in Drama, where her early theatre writing began at Allen Hall theatre.  Pip won the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 2009 and The 53rd Victim won the New New Zealand Play Award the same year. She lives with her husband and children in Westmere, Auckland.

Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

55 mins

Superbly crafted and modulated

Review by John Smythe 02nd Apr 2020

Pip Hall’s The 53rd Victim has an impressive track record. Developed through the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts Show and Tell programme in 2008, the stage play went on to win Playmarket’s New New Zealand Play Award in 2009, selected from more than 70 scripts – and that year Hall also won the Bruce Mason award.

In 2010 Whangarei’s Bogwood Productions staged the world premiere, directed by Kelly Johnson with 12 actors playing 35 characters. The same year Radio New Zealand commissioned Hall to adapt it for radio. It was produced (i.e. directed) by Jason Te Kare with 16 actors and was a finalist in 2011 in the drama section of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.

As a subjective memory-cum-imagination play intercut with moments of objective reality, it is ideal radio drama. The 53rd Victim is named for the New Zealand woman who hit the headlines in July 2005 as the heroic Kiwi connection to a terrorist bus bombing in London’s Tavistock Square (the fourth in one fateful morning, the others being detonated on commuter trains: total death toll 52; more than 770 injured). Hall has blended fact with fiction in order to seek out a human understanding of what happened, and why, over the two months the story played out in the media. Thus the woman is named Rachel Brooke-Taylor and the NZ Herald journalist who broke the story then followed it through is called Karen Jennings.

The opening moments tell us a corpse has been found and a cynical English cop (Peter Dennett) has no compassion for the deceased. Next minute the London-based Kiwi woman we’ll come to know as Rachel Brooke-Taylor (Amy Tarleton) is reciting her self-affirmations, convincing herself she is a good and happy person who loves her partner, her family and herself, and she is an excellent doctor.

The sounds of London’s morning rush-hour hum behind Rachel’s recollections of childhood games in neighbour Barry’s treehouse where her ‘calling’ as a doctor was seeded. Awareness of the atrocities intrude and alert her – and she finds herself at Tavistock Square, the calm voice of medical professionalism, attending to the agonised injured on the bus despite warnings from terrified onlookers that there might be another bomb.

When the NZ Herald’s Karen Jennings (Nancy Brunning) receives an anonymous tip-off, by email, that one of the heroines from the Tavistock Square bus bombing was a Kiwi medic, she is delighted, pursues the story, contacts Rachel, writes it up for the next front page …

When questions are raised by those who have known, studied and worked with Rachel the drama turns from ‘hero’s journey’ into a mystery. While Rachel is trying to work out who would have it in for her and why, Karen is on a solid journalist’s quest for the truth.

The self-affirmations recur: she has the life she wants, has chosen, deserves …

Within this superbly crafted and modulated soundscape, the way we are made privy to Rachel’s experience largely replicates the way we all live our lives, connecting as necessary with the real world while remembering, considering, feeling, surmising, fantasising … We cannot help but empathise with her even as the outside world challenges her reality. Even the voices we resent compel us to share Karen’s quest.

Rachel’s background is vividly established in the voice of Vivien Bell as her mother. Wellington actors who hail from the UK (Dennett, Ray Henwood, Briony Skillington, Eddie Campbell, Robert Hartley, Jonathan Kenyon, Marilyn Milgrom) plus one from Africa (Tawanda Manyimo) keeps all the voices authentic, allowing us to get fully immersed in the story.

Judge for yourself.


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