‘Dramarama’: Volume 1 DVD review

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Back in the days when Children’s ITV was good – when it actually existed – there were periods when its output equalled and even surpassed that of its BBC rival.

There was Children’s Ward, Steven Moffat’s Press Gang, Spatz – older readers, you know it’s true – and, between 1983 and 1989, a series of one-off dramas which aired every Friday under the umbrella title of Dramarama.

Produced by various ITV companies throughout the run and heralding the careers of many great actors, writers and directors, the Dramarama stories encompassed all manner of genres – lots of sci-fi and supernatural stuff, yes, but certainly not exclusively – and represented an attitude that seems all too rare these days: the encouragement and development of new creative talent.

The gloriously named Mr Stabs is a florid and likeably pompous fantasy about the eponymous villainous magician – played by a surprisingly effective David Jason with a sibilant voice, a hilarious mullet and a robe from the Lucius Malfoy hand-me-down collection – sent off by Patrick Malahide and a gang of monks to get a black glove from another evil wizard with only his trusted familiar Luko (a hapless hobgoblin cross between Dobby and the be-penised bear from Bo Selecta) for company.

Stuffed with pre-Potter snakes and sorcery, frequent breaches of the fourth wall and numerous filthy fnar-fnar dialogue disasters (‘They have wanton ways,’ Polandi the witch says of human beings. ‘My hand power will protect me,’ Stabs reassures her), Mr Stabs is actually a lot of fun. It’s refreshing to see a story with no redeemable characters whatsoever and the ending is effectively spooky.

On Your Tod features Gary Oldman as 18-year-old Ben, a Bruce Wayne-without-Batman trust fund slacker with his own house, accountant and cleaner – and some giant fruit on the stairs that go unremarked on and unexplained – whose life is an endless whirl of social networking, wild partying (although only one empty wine bottle is ever shown among the detritus from the bacchanalian festivities) and spiritual ennui.

Amid the philosophical musings on the emptiness of his life and hilariously stereotyped attempts at portraying youth culture, there’s time for what another Ben – Elton – might have described as a little bit of politics. When his cleaner asks him what he’d do without money, Ben remarks: ‘I’d get a job, or I’d be unemployed – like most of my friends.’ TAKE THAT, THATCHER.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, The Trip), Rosie the Great is a comedy drama set on the fictional mid-Atlantic island of Longsea – actually Porthgain on the Pembrokeshire coast – which declares its independence from Britain and, in a bid to prevent the US, US and USSR building airbases, appoints the rightful heir to their throne: a 12 year old girl named Rosie.

A mixture of Hamish MacBeth, Castaway 2000 and The Comic Strip Presents, Rosie the Great combines slapstick farce, ludicrous stereotypes (the American envoy’s demands upon arrival on Longsea are simple: ‘If I don’t get a champagne shower, a manicure, a facial, a Caesar Salad, three scoops of chocolate-chip double-chocolate and a long cold spritzer in the next half-hour, I will sue your government’) and – best of all – a youthful Peter Capaldi with the flowing locks of Jim Morrison .

There are seven more episodes on the DVD, all produced by Thames Television, with two additional dramas (the frankly awful School for Clowns and the genuinely creepy Mr Magus Is Waiting For You, originally screened as part of Theatre Box and retroactively added to the Dramarama roster) among the extra features.

While some have aged less well than others – a few, such as The Horrible Story, were pretty dismal in the first place – and some fail to provide any retrospective unintentional amusement when viewed as an adult, there’s more than enough nostalgia and entertainment herein to make the set worth forking out for.

Released on DVD on Monday 13th February 2012 by Network DVD.

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Watch a classic clip…

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