Tumanbay ~ BBC Radio 4 drama



Writer and director John Dryden is excited about the way his complex tale of intrigue in medieval Egypt is being broadcast: “I am really pleased to have persuaded the BBC to put it out weekly rather than blitzing it over a day or over two weeks. What I want to do is build an audience through word of mouth and social media.”

Tumanbay is set in a fictional north African city, the jewel of a great empire that draws people from all over the known world to take advantage of its wealth and opportunities. It’s a place where a slave can become the wife of a sultan. But all is not well at the heart of the empire – there are deadly spies at work in the sultan’s palace, an uprising that is met with brutal retribution.

A ten-part historical drama with echoes of Game of Thrones will be broadcast weekly and will be available to download as a podcast

It may sound like something from Game of Thrones (of which more below), but much of what happens is actually based on historical events and people from a 300-year period during the Mumluk slave dynasty in Egypt. Yet Dryden is also keen to stress that there is contemporary relevance too: “My intention with Tumanbay is to create a world which has resonance with the world today. There a little bit of North Korea and whole lot of Isis in there to be found too.”

So there are hints at the modern world to be discovered, but if you want to just enjoy it as a morally complex fantasy drama then you can. Rufus Wright, who plays Gregor, the ruthless Master of the Palace Guard, is one to draw parallels between his character and Game of Thrones: “He reminds me of a couple of characters in Game of Thrones. Particularly Peter Dinklage’s character, Tyrion Lannister, because he does seems to have moments of certainty and truth and almost moments when you admire him. But on the whole, you are staggered that he would do certain things simply to stay in power and rise slowly to the top.”

Meanwhile, his co-star Alexander Siddig (who plays Prince Doran Martell in GoT), believes the setting is similar to that of TV’s blockbusting fantasy drama: “This could easily be one of the worlds in Game of Thrones. My world in Game of Thrones is this world. Tumanbay could easily be the capital of Dorne for example.”

So whether your thing is historical drama, allegorical thrillers or complex fantasy, it seems that all is here for you to discover and relish again and again on the podcast.

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