Radio Wonderland

20th December 1996 at 00:00
Before Christmas, you have too little time. After Christmas, you have too much and don't know what to do with it. This year's offerings on radio could help with both problems.

* Saturday, December 21: Britten and Pears in America (Radio 3, 7.20pm) tells how, ensconced in a house in Brooklyn in 1941, Benjamin Britten was suddenly moved by a book of George Crabbe's poems to return to Britain and start work on Peter Grimes.

* Sunday, December 22: If you've recovered from the night before, kept your head at the lunchtime drinks party and made it home by 2.30pm, you can catch Alice in Wonderland (Radio 4FM). Alice (full-bloodedly played by Sarah Jane Holm) slips into sleep most convincingly - this could be a danger point for some listeners - then falls under the spell of the Drink Me bottle, another Christmas hazard. As she falls through space and time, the images conjured up veer between Franz Kafka, the Goons and Gremlins. Amid all this Alice's exasperated sanity is refreshing: "It was so much better at home when one was a consistent size and not being ordered about by animals." Radio is a wonderful medium for fantasy, but I wonder how those who have not seen the Tenniel illustrations will envisage Alice and the Mad Hatter? The pictures already in my head were an integral part of the enjoyment.

Later on, more manic seasonal preparations may disfigure the day but eventually, if a temporary peace descends, you may want to spend the late evening - particularly if you are male - with Juliet Stevenson and Shakespeare. She stars as Imogen in Cymbeline at 9.00pm on Radio 3, playing the downtrodden heroine with wonderful restraint and dignity. It's an intimate play and so works better on radio than some more celebrated works.

* Monday, December 23: If last-minute present-buying is calling, there's only time for a short story: What the Dickens? - the first of four in a festive series - about a benevolent Scrooge operating in Canary Wharf (Radio 4, 4.45pm). And towards bedtime there's Paul Simons' Weather Report (Radio 5, 10.00pm) which is both topical - examining the day's weather report in some detail - and scientific, although the information is levened with scattered showers of Simons' drollery.

* Tuesday, December 24: It's the pressure day, so there's little time for anything other than a rather unusual archive version of A Christmas Carol (Radio 2, 10.30pm). It was first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1952 and stars Laurence Olivier as Scrooge. He did extraordinarily little radio -except for a burst in the 1950s, when he and some friends - Richardson, Gielgud, Redgrave and the like - made a series of adaptations entitled, modestly, Theatre Royale.

* Wednesday December 25: At parsnip-peeling time, you can indulge a little in The Old Curiosity Shop (Radio 4, 11.30am). Dickens's sentimental but exciting story of Little Nell grips well and features a wonderfully sinister and silky Quip who is played by Tom Courtenay.

* Thursday, December 26: Just shake off the torpor for a particularly thrilling Sherlock Holmes Christmas yarn, The Blue Carbuncle (Radio 2, 10.30pm). And who plays Holmes? None other than Sir John Gielgud himself. And Watson? Ralph Richardson. Enjoy.

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