Dramarama: Spooky Review

Dramarama was a very successful anthology drama series for teenagers that ran on ITV from 1983 to 1989 and encompassed some 90 half-hour single dramas. Unusually, each single play was produced by separate production teams from various regional companies within ITV and then brought together under the Dramarama umbrella by Tyne Tees for transmission. Prior to the first season's broadcast in September 1983, a short precursor series entitled Dramarama: Spooky was transmitted in Spring 1983. This was executive produced at Thames TV by Pamela Lonsdale, one of the most significant names in children's genre TV of the 70s and 80s. The seven episodes from this series form this release.


War Games with Caroline by Paula Milne
Featuring Faith Brook, Wayne Norman and Lucy Durham-Matthews
An evening in October 1982 in a faded old school. On the eve of Founder's Day, Kevin, a war-obsessed pupil doing detention and Mrs Rawley, a former teacher who is visiting for prize-giving both have a ghostly encounter with a former pupil. This is a genuinely creepy and stylish little timeslip chiller, directed with flair by Richard Handford. It's helped enormously by sparse production design from Robert Ide and very effective old-fashioned Gothic-style lighting effects. The only thing that lets it down is the predictable ending which has already been done too many times before to be any surprise.

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The Exorcism of Amy by Maggie Wadey
Featuring Annabelle Lanyon and Lucy Benjamin
This bog-standard imaginary-friend-from-Hell story is lifted to another plane altogether by the extraordinarily stylish production designed by Robert Ide and directed by John Woods. Young Elizabeth (Annabelle Lanyon) tells of the time her parents brought troubled Amy (Eastenders' very own Lucy Benjamin billed here as Lucy Baker) into their home. Amy has a reputation for being a home-wrecking brat but really she's a sweet and very scared little girl. It's her malevolent imaginary friend Amelia (also played by Benjamin) who causes the chaos. Elizabeth, being a proper little madame, decides to tackle the situation. Extremely theatrical in approach and sparely designed this is probably the most stylish piece of children's drama I've ever seen. The two girls are well-cast and beautifully costumed and play against each other extremely well. The script could just as easily have been played out in a naturalistic setting but the theatricality and design contribute to a dreamlike quality which adds so much more.

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The Danny Roberts Show by David Hopkins
Featuring Nicholas Ball and Gwyneth Strong
Danny Roberts, a smarmy late-night phone-in DJ (Nicholas Ball) gets the caller from Hell on the line. This play could easily have been put in a late-night adult slot. The tone is properly horrific without anything explicit being shown and there are no concessions made to a younger audience. Nothing is seen, only a voice is heard but it is genuinely scary. Nicholas Ball plays this dead straight and sustains a perfectly-judged tone throughout.

The Ghostly Earl by R Chetwynd Hayes adapted by Alan Seymour
Featuring Geoffrey Beevers and Caroline Dudley
An unfunny comedy drama recycling elements of The Canterville Ghost. Easily the weakest play in the series.

In A Dark, Dark Box... by Jane Hollowood
Featuring Sheila Burrell and Andrew Downer
A Saki-style Victorian scare piece about a newly-orphaned young lad being told a scary bed time story by his grandmother. This is followed by a ghostly visitation - or was it all a dream? This had the potential to be really creepy but is let down by a barely-adequate performance from Andrew Downer and pedestrian direction.

The Restless Ghost by Leon Garfield adapted by James Andrew Hall
Featuring Wilfrid Brambell, Stephen Rooney, Jonathan Jackson and Colin Jeavons
In the 1700s two young lads torment a crazy old church sexton (Wilfrid Brambell) by impersonating a ghostly drummer boy. As usual with this type of story, their actions open a can of worms. Unusually, both child actors are not bad and the adult cast members are excellent. Colin Jeavons was a very under-rated actor who was the mainstay of many TV dramas from the 60s to the 90s. Wilfrid Brambell is best known now as Albert Steptoe and specialised afterwards in playing disgusting old men which was the complete antithesis of his personal life. Offscreen he was a fastidious and stylishly-dressed man. It's a pity he was typecast and he was capable of far more - if you want to see his best work check out the final part of Terence Davies' Trilogy which he also filmed in 1983. The Restless Ghost was one of his last screen appearances before his death in 1985.

The Keeper by Alan Garner
Featuring Tim Woodward and Janet Maw
Two ghost-hunters investigating an old lodge get more than they bargained for. This is the sparest of all the plays, just two adult actors in one room but they are both superb and the very stylish direction by John Woods overcomes any inherent limitations. The lack of squawking drama school brats helps too.

Transfer and Sound

All seven plays are shot entirely on video in the studio. The master tapes are completely undamaged but in some of the plays the image is very soft and diffuse as if gauze had been used on the cameras, probably for stylistic reasons. Otherwise the image is as good as you would expect for the time and although much softer than anything we are used to now is perfectly acceptable by the standards of the time and is fine once the eye adjusts. There are no significant problems with the sound. The most creative soundtrack is that for The Danny Roberts Show which, given the technical limitations of the time, is very sophisticated and unsettling.

Extras

An image gallery of high quality production stills. 2m 16s

Summary

As the title pretty much gives away this is an anthology of the supernatural. It could be seen as a spiritual successor to the mid-70s series Shadows (another Pamela Lonsdale show) but is aimed at an older teenage audience and is superior in every way. The writing and production values are of a much higher order than in Shadows. Although thoroughly studio-bound each play is stylishly put together on a par with or even exceeding the best adult dramas of the time. The casting is generally excellent with most of the young cast acquitting themselves extremely well, some of whom, like Lucy Benjamin, went on to have successful adult careers. Amongst the adults you have a mixture of established names of the time like Nicholas Ball and very seasoned old hands like Wilfrid Brambell. With the exception of The Ghostly Earl, these are all well-produced strong TV dramas which wouldn't be out of place in an adult series.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
1 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 11:03:26

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