Roll up, roll up for the exciting new season of audio adventures featuring Jago and Litefoot, the Victorian duo specialising in ‘infernal investigations’ played with brio and vim by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter. After their emotional Brighton sojourn in Jago in Love, George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago return chastened to London in the company of their friend Leela, the time travelling jungle huntress who is learning the ways of polite society. It is 1893 and our team are about to make the acquaintance of playwright and celebrated dandy, Mr Oscar Wilde.
Juicy Jagoisms: “Aha! It’s a cunning con for the coralling of coinage”
At the end of season three, the Professor’s home was partly destroyed by aliens, but before he could do anything about it his life was once again upturned by the fleeting appearance of the enigmatic Claudius Dark. He seems to have somehow won Leela’s trust and indeed claims to know Jago and Litefoot too – but they, on the other hand, are adamant that they have never heard of him and are unsurprisingly quite wary. Having set up this tantalising mystery as a cliffhanger, this fourth season then opened with Jago in Love, avoiding plot resolutions and instead teasing listeners with a holiday story that provided Jago with romance, suggested some sadness in Litefoot’s past and introduced a shady pair of to the mix, Mr Kempston (played by Christopher Beeny) and Mr Hardwick (Mike Grady), who seem to be after Dark and are manipulating our friends to get to him.
“I do not understand romance Mr Jago. But I understand pain.” - Leela
Now we are back in London and in need of some answers. In the ruin of the Professor’s home, we learn that Dark, apparently with the connivance of Leela, in fact engineered the trip to the seaside to get our heroes out of town and away from as yet unspecified enemies. Dark, instead of actually explaining what is going on (after all, so early in the game, what would be the fun in that …), to make up for his earlier subterfuge offers them hard-to-obtain tickets to Oscar Wilde’s latest West End hit, which this being 1893 is ‘A Woman of No Importance’ (though the title is not actually given).
The duo is now set to meet one of the literary greats of the Victorian era, which is a now regular strategy in historical fiction but something fairly new to this series – I’m glad to say though that here it is carried off very nicely indeed. Wilde was the celebrity author of dozens of celebrated epigrams and a quartet of classic satirical plays, but more pertinently as it turns out was also the author of that classic Gothic horror, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. When elements of that book start to be played out in the case, this raises the suspicions of Litefoot (Jago hasn’t read the book, claiming to be ‘more of a Dickens chap’), who it turns out doesn’t think much Wilde the man for his celebrity status, though appreciating his work as an author (actually something established in a throwaway quip in an earlier Jago & Litefoot story).
Tell me Mr Wilde, what do you consider to be the first duty of the artist?”
In an attack of fuddy-duddines, Litefoot thus opts not to go to see the play and so barmaid Ellie takes his ticket, while he heads back to the morgue. Coincidentally (or is it ..?) Sergeant Quick comes to the Professor with something of a medical problem. While he was away in Brighton, several ‘unusual’ bodies turned up. Several young men of an artistic persuasion have been found with their minds completely drained, still standing but otherwise unresponsive. Eventually these brain-dead ‘zombies’ die for unknown reasons after being hospitalised. We get a hint of what may be happening back at the theatre when Wilde is approached by a good-looking and enigmatic young man who comes with a proposition … and who seems to be housing a hungry creature back at his house with its gigantic library. Leela is made suspicious of him after they bump into each other at the theatre – he is immediately hostile, and her hunter’s instincts are aroused by a noticeable absence about the man – he seems in fact to have no scent. They decide to follow him and Ellie helps them crash a party where the man (to use his name would spoil an amusing gag later on) picks a young fellow he refers to as ‘fresh meat’ …
“It’s as if their brains packed a case and went on holiday.” – Jago
John Dorney, who previously contributed one of the best stories to the previous season, Swan Song, has come up with a thematically rich tale that also makes plenty of room for witty banter – which is only right and proper given the introduction of Wilde into the proceedings. Indeed, in one exchange Jago truly finds his match for his alliterative powers – to wit, upon Jago’s profuse compliments, Wilde retorts (deep breath):
“My pride is practically palatial at perceiving this play’s performance proved particularly pleasing and provokes such profligate and prosperous praise from a person of the public possessing, perhaps, peculiar perspicacity. Perchance the perceptions of the promulgating press will precisely parallel such perfect proclamations and prove not parsimonious in their positivity, providing plaudits in place of the prevalent pessimism they persistently parade, proving my piece permanently popular.
Beyond the literary badinage, we are also treated to a nicely tuned Gothic storyline that toys with ‘Dorian Gray’ before heading in a much fresher direction. The conclusion may seem a bit too ‘conceptual’ for some but it expands wonderfully on Wildean notions of the importance of Art and the role of the Artist and gives the play a fine thematic undercurrent. In addition to its strong cast of regulars, John Sackville is particularly good as the fragrance-free villain while Alan Cox is also impressive as Wilde, who thankfully gets plenty to do in the play and is not just used for reflected glory. Not for the first time, Dorney has done something ingenious and bold for Big Finish (you can also read my review of his work for them here). This script brings together a variety of elements that relate to the life and work of its central subject without betraying the requirement to make a thrilling episode of the series he is serving. It’s hard to use a historical figure, and a well-known one, well, but here this proves extremely worthwhile (the genre is littered with hosrrible examples of the ‘Good morning, Dickens’, ‘Good morning, Thackeray’ style of historical name dropping). As so often before, Dorney has done a superb job and leaves other writers at Big Finish to either sit back and pick up the pieces or seriously up their game.
Writer: John Dorney
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Music & Sound Design: Howard Carter
Cover Art: Alex Mallinson
Running time: 60 minutes
Release date: March 2012
Main cast: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Louise Jameson (Leela), Conrad Asquith (Sergeant Quick), Colin Baker (Professor Claudius Dark), Alan Cox (Oscar Wilde)
To listen to the season trailer, click here. To purchase the set from Big Finish, either as a download or as a beautifully designed CD box set, and you really, really should, visit the company’s website here: www.bigfinish.com/Jago-and-Litefoot
My dedicated Jago & Litefoot microsite is here.