Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape first unnerved an unsuspecting British television audience on Christmas Day in 1972, and for Halloween 2015 acclaimed British filmmaker Peter Strickland, dispensing with the visuals, brought a sonic tale of terror to BBC Radio 4.
Writer Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) wisely keeps the setting in the ‘70s, specifically 1979, and strips back the original version’s running time of ninety minutes to a taught and tense single hour. The radio adaptation is essentially the same as its televisual ancestor; a team of scientists moves into a new laboratory in a Victorian mansion. When Jill Greely hears a strange disembodied scream, the team decides to analyse the phenomenon, which appears to be a psychic impression trapped in the wall. The scientists begin to realise that their work has disturbed something hidden beneath the stone, something ancient and malevolent.
As with the original BBC television drama, the sound is as important a character itself as the cast. Indeed, The Stone Tape could be considered a companion piece to Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio as the sound design was also a vital component to that film. The BBC Research and Development have pioneered a revolutionary sound technology that creates a 3D sound experience via a binaural mix. This has to be listened to through a pair of headphones, and preferably a darkened room but that’s entirely optional, to truly appreciate the immersive and suitably unnerving listening experience. Every electronic pulse, synth loop and reverberation seemingly echo around you creating an eerie sense of disquiet. If that takes you back to the days of the old Radiophonic Workshop, then it’s more than mere coincidence as they were responsible for the spine chilling sounds of the original production.
The human cast that includes Romola Garai (The Hour, Atonement), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing), and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) and Dean Andrews (Ashes to Ashes) with a cameo by Jane Asher, the original version’s Jill, underplay their parts which greatly benefits the production. This is somewhat unusual for a radio drama, where a performance is often exaggerated to compensate for the lack of visuals, but it ultimately succeeds giving the drama a very naturalistic and real quality.
So turn off those lights, adorn those headphones, settle back and return to those heady days of snug-fit flares and infeasibly long sideburns, and experience a disturbing auditory hour that will quite literally have you wondering if you are really alone or did that shadow seem to move?
THE STONE TAPE / DIRECTOR: PETER STRICKLAND / AUTHOR: PETER STRICKLAND, MATTHEW GRAHAM / STARRING: ROMOLA GARAI, JULIAN BARRATT, JULIAN RHIND-TUTT, DEAN ANDREWS, JANE ASHER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW