BBC Radio 2 is to broadcast a drama starring Toby Jones and Jason Donovan based on award-winning author Michael Morpurgo’s child migration novel, Alone On A Wide Wide Sea. The four-part drama, the first ever adaptation of the book, stars Toby Jones and Jason Donovan alongside cameo appearances from Michael Morpurgo and Maggie Aderin-Pocock.
The 30-minute episodes will be broadcast across four days during Jeremy Vine’s show at 1.30pm-2pm from Monday 7 to Thursday 10 August. The drama will also feature original music from the album The Ballads Of Child Migration, as well as new songs which have been written especially for the radio drama.
Between 1869 and 1970 around 100,000 British children were sent overseas – without their parents – by leading British churches and charities to new lives in Australia and Canada. Michael Morpurgo’s story, which was adapted for radio by Ian McMillan, is inspired by this sad part of history. It tells of the adventures of two child migrants, Arthur and Marty, who dispatched from London to a working farm in the Australian outback.
In the drama, Toby Jones plays Mr Piggy Bacon, who runs the farm where the child migrants are put to work on the land, and Jason Donovan portrays Arthur Hobhouse, who as an orphan child was sent from London to Australia as part of a child migration scheme.
The play covers 50 years of Arthur Hobhouse’s life and so features three different actors portraying the character, though Jason is a constant throughout playing ‘old Arthur’. Michael Morpurgo narrates the story, while Maggie Aderin-Pocock (presenter of the BBC’s Sky at Night) plays an astronaut in the International Space Station.
Specially curated music from the drama was performed to great acclaim at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 on Wednesday 5 April at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2, says: “I’m delighted BBC Radio 2 is bringing such distinctive drama and music to the heart of our daytime schedule. The powerful and engaging writing of Michael Morpurgo will be beautifully brought to life by the superb cast.”
Michael Morpurgo says: “What is hard and uncomfortable to remember and believe, is always salutary and important to acknowledge. The migrant crisis the world faces today is not new. Wherever there has been war or hunger, homelessness or poverty, there will be refugees seeking sanctuary, seeking to survive. Among those who suffer most in such circumstances are children, children alone or unwanted in the world.
“After the Second World War, there were thousands of such children in this country in need of homes and in need of the security and love only a family can provide. Many of these children were sent away to the other side of the world, separated from all they knew, to Australia, and elsewhere, where it was thought they would be well looked after. Some were, but others found themselves living in abject misery and hardship, were exploited and abused, their lives blighted.
“Alone On A Wide Wide Sea traces the lives of these children, of one in particular, and of his family. He struggles all his life to come to terms with his isolation and banishment, as he and his daughter try to rediscover their roots, to find a way back to their family and a sense of identity.”
Jason Donovan said: “Michael Morpurgo is such a wonderful writer and Alone On A Wide Wide Sea is a moving, beautiful story. It’s an absolute pleasure to be invited to play one of his characters.
“Being Australian I’m very aware of the child migration schemes and the terrible hardships that some of those children endured when they went to Australia. In his usual magical way, Michael manages to weave a delightful adventure out of a terribly sad piece of history. I hope that this production will help to make more people aware of the story of child migrants.”
Alone On A Wide Wide Sea was published in 2006 and the book’s title is taken from a line in English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s longest major poem, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
The drama is directed by Frank Stirling, and edited and produced by John Leonard of 7digital productions. This is the second drama that John and Michael Morpurgo have worked together on for Radio 2. In 2014, John produced a version of Michael’s War Horse for the network.
R2 magazine said of the album, The Ballads Of Child Migration:
The trick for both the writers and project co-ordinator Gordon Lynch is to avoid saying the same thing over and over again. While and Matthews’ ‘Small Cases Full Of Big Dreams’ which opens the set almost says it all. Jez Lowe immediately provides another point of view with the jolly ‘Barnardo’s Party Time’ and his ‘Snow To Nova Scotia’ and John Doyle’s ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’ both offer optimism but by now you’ve read the notes and the enormity of the subject is sinking in. At this point the hymn, ‘Whither Pilgrims Are You Going’, performed by CBS and O’Hooley & Tidow might just leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
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