The Terror at Tinakore Road

Radio New Zealand National, 3.04 pm Sundays, (not a specified venue)

11/11/2007 - 11/11/2007

Production Details

WRITER: Neil Giles
PRODUCER: Adam Macaulay
ENGINEERS: Phil Benge & Phil Brownlee

Radio New Zealand

The Terror at Tinakore Road is a real charmer for all those who unashamedly admit to loving a good yarn, well told.  Writer Neil Giles has a sharp ear for the murder mystery genre and confesses a bit of an obsession with it from an early age.  “Provincial Victorian Wellington (despite its dreams of grandeur) was just that—provincial,” he says, “It was a port city (town actually) and as such attracted an array of seedy characters who were either bent on some mischief or bent on running away from the consequences of some mischief that they had committed.”  So, it’s chemist and super sleuth, Anthony Dunbar, on the trail of a poisoner.  How much fun is that?  Well, if the fun the cast had in making this one is any indication . . .

Peter Hambleton . . . . Anthony Dunbar 
Bruce Phillips . . . . . .  Inspector Whistell 
Timothy Bartlett . . . . Sgt McAdam  
Michael Whalley . . . . Billy 
Jim Moriarty . . . . . . . George 
Tim Gordon . . . . . . . . Sutton 
Anne Budd . . . . . . . . . Mrs Tyler
Jed Brophy . . . . . . . .  Chen & Charles Castle 
Duncan Smith . . . . . . Nathaniel Forbes III 

Theatre ,

53 mins

A diverting enough hour

Review by John Smythe 13th Nov 2007

The fourth and final radio play in the Radio New Zealand National Spring Season of New Drama is the only one not adapted from a stage play.

Neil Giles’ The Terror at Tinakore Road is a classic detective story of the amateur detective runs rings round the official constabulary variety, that quite properly uses the genre to comment on class inequality, to wit: privileged chaps think they can get away with murder while the under-classes who have to resort to petty thieving just to stay alive get clobbered with the full force of the law.

Set in Victorian-cum-Seddonian Wellington, it’s a shame sound effects aren’t used more to capture the turn-of-the-century era; not a horse-drawn carriage or paper boy to be heard, just the odd footstep to establish a street (the Wellington Club, Guest House and police station were all carpeted, presumably) or morepork to denote nightime.

Nevertheless producer Adam Macaulay ensures the largely dialogue-driven, multi-character and multi-location story moves fluently through its paces.

The premise is that Nathaniel Forbes III, known as Lord Nat, a waster and gambler shipped to the colonies by his betters, is found dead in his guest house bed. Except professional chemist and amateur sleuth Anthony Dunbar (Peter Hambleton) sees past the stolid Inspector Whistell (Bruce Phillips) and his men to deduce the corpse is not Forbes but dupe in his clothing.

Two questions of credibility attract our attention here. First, how come Mrs Tyler (Anne Budd), the Guest House landlady and the housemaid (not credited), to who Lord Nat was well known, didn’t realise this was an impostor? That his face was contorted by strychnine poisoning goes some way towards explaining it, and much later it does emerge as significant that Mrs T was the one who said it was him.

Quite why Dunbar deduces so quickly the motive was to extort a ransom is also hard to fathom but the cunning twist is in the revelation of who was pulling that swifty.

While Jed Brophy (who also plays Chinese club owner Chen to the hilt) and Duncan Smith (a late entry) do aural justice to the toffs in the tale, Budd, Hambleton, Phillips, Timothy Bartlett (a police sergeant), Jim Moriarty (a fishmonger) and Tim Gordon (a sleazy underworld operator) all honour the emerging Kiwi accent without over-stating it. (I think it’s Moriarty also plays a Scottish doctor.)

Why, then, is street boy Billy (Michael Whalley), a young petty thief who has grown up in Wellington, played with a Cockney accent? Logically he should have had the strongest Kiwi accent of all. Does the point really have to be spelt out? If New Zealand actors – and their writers and directors – don’t take responsibility for exploring the evolution of the Kiwi accent, whole else in the world will? It’s a challenge we should embrace with delight.

As it stands, The Terror at Tinakore Road offers a diverting enough hour of listening and it’s probably unfair to expect it to have developed as and even better window into our early settler days. That would have taken a level of dedication and passion that I somehow feel is lacking a ?Radio NZ these days.

There have been times when a veritable repertory company of radio writers, actors and producers sustained professional acting in Wellington, allowing the evolution of Downstage and Circa. Then there was Avalon and the advent of TV drama, not to mention TV commercials …

If Radio NZ, at least, with its relatively low overheads, were to revitalise its role as a strong and consistent producer of homegrown fare all year round, that could only benefit audiences and the profession as a whole. But where is the will to make it happen?


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