Midnight Cry of the Deathbird by Amanda Dalton

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 28 October 2012

F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) is an acknowledged classic of the silent screen.  Based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, it begins with an estate agent, Knock, sending his associate Hutter, to Count Orlock's house in Transylvania, as the Count wants to buy a house in Wisbourg. They plan to sell the Count the house across the road from Hutter.  The action moves forward; and Hutter leaves his wife Ellen alone while he goes away to visit the Count. Once in the Castle, Hutter feels unnerved, especially when the Count is normally asleep during daytime; unfortunately Hutter cannot escape, as the Count makes his way to Wisbourg, causing death along his way, which most attribute to the plague. The film ends with a cliff-hanging climax: will Hutter escape in time to save his town, and more importantly, rescue his wife?

Amanda Dalton's version introduced an extra twist to the tale by having Ellen (Sophie Woolley) played as deaf. This invested the tale with an extra dimension; it was not only about vampires but about miscommunication: few of the characters could actually say what they mean. In this version Count Orlok (Malcolm Raeburn) and his alter ego Nosferatu (Valerie Cutko) were split into two: one was the servant of the other at different points in time.  This made them a formidable combination, more than capable of exploiting their victims for their own ends.  Instead of words, they realized that sounds were far more effective at communicating one's state of mind, as well as establishing power over others. Mercifully enough, there were no bat-noises to remind us of the story's links to the Dracula story.

To reinforce the debased nature of this world, director Susan Roberts showed characters like Roger (Roger Morlidge) perpetually trying to assume the role of narrator, guiding the listeners' reactions as well as pretending to omniscience. However he singularly failed in his task: ostensibly taken out of the narrative because of illness, he was actually usurped by Orlok and Nosferatu working in cahoots.  They proved themselves much more convincing in the narrator's role, even though they did not necessarily communicate entirely through verbal means.

In structural terms, Midnight Cry of the Damned deliberately eschewed a linear narrative, while the action proceeded through various forms, including dialogue, monologue, music, poetry and song.  Such devices emphasized the debased nature of this world: despite the variety of techniques on offer, they were all reduced to sounds rather than words.  
I have to admit that this was a really disturbing version of the tale, one that grabbed my attention within the first five minutes and never let go.