Friday Drama: Bad Memories
In 2004, a successful architect and his family mysteriously disappear from their home. Six years later five bodies are found in the cellar of their house. They are identified as Jonathan and Imogen Blake and their son, Matthew; Philip Gibson, who was on the missing person’s register and a woman, identity unknown. Forensics determine that not only were they murdered, but the time of death was1926. Can audio files found with the bodies solve the mystery?
Cast: Rachel Weir ….. Nicola Walker Jim Marquez ….. Rupert Graves Phillip Gibson ….. Steven Mackintosh Jonathan Blake ….. Anthony Calf Imogen Blake ….. Jana Carpenter Matthew Blake ….. Oscar Richardson Mary Marston ….. Imogen MCCurdy Boy 1 …… Ashley Cook Boy 2 …… Marcus Webb
Written and directed by Julian Simpson.
Recorded by Lucinda Mason Brown and David Chilton at Stanmer House in Brighton. Sound design by David Chilton
Producer: Karen Rose A Sweet Talk Production for BBC Radio 4.
- Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 9:00PM Fri, 27 Apr 2012
Bad Memories is a typical ‘family home gone wrong’ ghost story, in which a small family with a young child move into a haunted house and, as expected, are haunted and then worse. After calling in a paranormal investigator, Philip Gibson, who records the murderous ghost-girl to verify her presence but in doing so antagonises her. She ups the ante, asking the young boy Matthew to join her – “come and play”. But when he and his family attempt to escape, they are murdered by the ghost who seems to have supernatural control over the house; creating doors where they no longer exist and luring the family and Gibson into a room from her past in order to kill them. Their bodies, and that of an unidentified woman, are accidentally and literally stumbled upon by two students exploring the spooky house, and police investigators then find Gibsons recordings under the – seemingly 100 year-old – bodies.
There is much to confuse and intrigue here, and the paradox between the modern tape and family disappearance and the old bodies murdered in the same way as 1926 police reports suggest, is primary among them. Time travel, murder and ghosts are an exciting combination, and the discussion between the police officer Jim Marquez and the sound specialist Rachel Weir piques interest and foreshadows something more than a simple murder enquiry from the very beginning.
The difference here is in the telling. Ghost stories are at their most spooky when told at a remove: a third party stumbles upon the key to the puzzle and the reader/audience find out as the third party do that there is something more than just an old house the deal with. Here we have three stories, all unfolding at once, and there are a number of questions for the audience to work out: who is the girl? what happened in the house? and how is time travel involved?
The sound production is excellent here, painting in sound what would be easily achieved by images in a television drama, but in a less sophisticated way. Creepy young girls sing, there is giggling in empty corridors and the young boy Matthew is terrorised by something which cannot be heard by any of the adults but which we the audience can hear via Gibson’s tape. All in all, the excellent use of sound means that the story is prolonged, all the time heightening the audience’s sense that all is not as it seems. Also, the ending and its lack of sound equally speak volumes as this time it is we the audience who are left in the dark.
In summary, I found this play haunting, yet predictable. Although the telling was original, unfortunately the story was not. The sound engineer who cannot get the mystery out of her head goes back to the house at the end – and while it was a nice touch that she could well be the fifth unidentified female body, I knew what was going to happen to her. A severe case of have-you-not-read-this-story-before, that spoiled what was otherwise a spooky tale and turned it into something of an anti-climax.