a love story told in letters

The Animals

A Meeting by the River

and a play written by the lovers


The Animals Podcast tells the love story of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy through the eyes of a woman who could not resist reading their mail. Isherwood was an established writer when he met the eighteen-year-old Bachardy on the beach in Santa Monica in 1952. They spent the next three decades together, at the heart of the international creative community that was making the films, ballets, plays, books, and paintings of their era in Los Angeles, New York, and London. Their letters, written during periods apart, reveal their extraordinary devotion to one another and the tests their bond survived — public, professional tests as well as private, sexual and emotional ones. Acclaimed actors Simon Callow and Alan Cumming and writer and scholar Katherine Bucknell bring the letters to life in eight podcast episodes.

The series culminates with a performance of A Meeting by the River, Isherwood’s novel inspired by his conversion to Vedanta, a novel which he and Bachardy adapted together for the stage. Two brothers meet, after long separation, at a monastery in India. One is about to take vows as a Hindu monk; the other is out to stop him. Dominic West stars as the worldly, charming, bisexual elder brother; Kyle Soller as the heedlessly spiritual younger one. Penelope Wilton plays their mother; Annabel Mullion is the woman they both love. Fifty years after Isherwood and Bachardy offered him A Meeting by the River for the Royal Court Theatre in 1968, Anthony Page at last directs it in this audio version. 

© Florence Homolka

Christopher Isherwood was a novelist, playwright, screen-writer, autobiographer, and diarist. He was born in Cheshire in 1904, and died in Santa Monica in January 1986. His books include Prater Violet, A Single Man, A Meeting by the River and Goodbye to Berlin (the inspiration for the musical Cabaret), as well as four volumes of his diaries: Diaries Volume One: 1939-1960; The Sixties - Diaries Volume Two, 1960-1969; Liberation - Diaries Volume Three: 1970-1983; and Lost Years: a Memoir, 1945-1951.

Don Bachardy is a portrait artist and painter.  His works are held in the permanent collections of institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institute and the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Among his seven books of portraits are Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood and Hollywood.




With appearances by Don Bachardy and David Hockney.



Simon Callow is an actor, director and writer, who has played roles as diverse as Mozart in the original production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus at the National Theatre and the much-loved Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral.  His illustrious stage career includes performances in Titus Andronicus at the Bristol Old Vic, Faust at the Lyric Hammersmith, Waiting for Godot opposite Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and Trevor Nunn's production of The Woman in White.  He has also performed in a series of phenomenally popular one-man shows.  Numerous television appearances include roles in Chance in a Million (Thames), Angels in America (HBO), David Copperfield (BBC), Outlander (Starz) and The Rebel (UK-Gold), while his film credits include A Room with a ViewEngland, My EnglandShakespeare in Love, and The Viceroy's House.

Simon has also found success as a director.  His productions include Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine at the Lyric Hammersmith, the West End premiere of Shirley Valentine, Sharman MacDonald's Shades at the Albery Theatre, and Carmen Jones at the Old Vic.  He has written several critically acclaimed books  including biographies of Charles Laughton, Oscar Wilde and Orson Welles (three volumes, with a fourth and last to come). His most recent book is Being Wagner: the Triumph of the Will.



Alan Cumming has been described by Time Magazine as one of the most fun people in show business, by The New York Times as a ‘bawdy, countercultural sprite’ and by The Guardian as ‘European, weird, and sexually ambiguous’.

He has won over thirty awards for his humanitarianism and social activism, received both the Great Scot and Icon of Scotland awards from his homeland and was made an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) for his contributions to the arts and LGBT equality by the Queen – whose portrait was taken down when his was unveiled at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2014!

Alan Cumming is many things to many people - renaissance man, style icon, social activist, bon viveur - but to himself he is a story-teller and provocateur for hire. He lives in New York City and Edinburgh with his husband, illustrator Grant Shaffer, and their dogs, Jerry and Lala.


Katherine Bucknell is a writer and scholar, with degrees from Princeton, Oxford, and Columbia Universities. She is the editor of W.H. Auden's Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928, four volumes of diaries by Christopher Isherwood, and The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy.  She has also published four novels, Canarino, Leninsky Prospekt, What You Will, and +1.  A regular contributor to journals, newspapers, TV, radio and film, she has adapted The Animals and A Meeting by the River for this podcast.

Shani Erez 2.jpg

Shani Erez trained at Central School of Speech and Drama and has since worked as a director and actress in projects across theatre, film and television.  Her directing credits include Infinite Riches at the Old Red Lion, Daily Hell at the Off West End new writing festival, REDfest (for which she won the Best Director Award), and Broken Down (Theatre503).  She also co-directed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the New Red Lion.  Shani founded the innovative new theatre company Loitering With Intent, with which she has directed and produced Turn Right, Turn Left (Hamburg, Germany) and Negative Space.  She is a member of Lincoln Center’s Directors Lab in New York.

Her performances onstage include Orestes at The Southwark Playhouse, Twelfth Night at The Minack and Midsummer Night's Dream at The Southbank Centre, as well as productions with The Paper Birds, .dash Theatre and Bold & Saucy.  For television, Shani has worked on The Honourable Woman and Silent Witness, and she has recently finished filming her first feature film, The Long Walk, directed by Michael Cuesta.  While living in Israel, she hosted and DJed on several nationwide radio stations.


Edmund Jolliffe is an award-winning concert composer, as well as a composer for film and television. He is a graduate of Oxford University and the Royal College of Music.  His music is performed all over the world and is published by OUP, ABRSM and Stainer and Bell.  He has composed music for series such as the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, ITV's Long Lost Family and Channel Four's Unreported World. In 2016 he was nominated for an RTS Craft and Design Award for his score to BBC 1’s Elizabeth at 90.




A play by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy

© Ken Butler

Anthony Page is an award-winning director of theatre, film and television. As Artistic Director at the Royal Court for various periods from 1964 to 1973, Anthony directed the premieres of John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence, A Patriot for Me, West of Suez, Time Present and Hotel in Amsterdam, and productions of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Not I. Among many other productions, he has directed Mrs Warren’s Profession and Absolute Hell (National Theatre); Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Roundabout Theatre, New York); Ibsen's Rosmersholm (Almeida Theatre); Edward Albee's Three Tall Women (Wyndham’s Theatre), A Delicate Balance (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Finding the Sun and Marriage Play (NT Cottesloe), Occupant (Signature Theatre, New York), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Longacre Theatre, New York/Apollo Theatre, London), and The Lady from Dubuqe (Theatre Royal Haymarket); a Tony-award winning production of Ibsen's A Doll's House (Playhouse Theatre, London/Belasco Theatre, New York); Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Music Box Theatre, New York) and The Night of the Iguana (Lyric Theatre); and, most recently, O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night (Apollo Theatre), to much acclaim.

Anthony's work in film includes ForbiddenThe Lady VanishesInadmissible EvidenceI Never Promised You a Rose Garden; and Alpha Beta. He has also worked extensively in television, directing productions such as My Zinc Bed (BBC); Absolute Hell (BBC); The Nightmare Years (TNT); Second Serve (CBS); The Missiles of October (ABC); and Middlemarch (BBC).



Dominic West graduated from Trinity College Dublin and then from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A very successful film career includes leading roles in studio movies such as 28 Days opposite Sandra Bullock; Mona Lisa Smile, with Julia Roberts; and The Forgotten, with Julianne Moore. Further film credits include ChicagoA Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Phantom MenaceRichard IIIPrideTestament of Youth; and Money Monster. In 2000, he won the role of McNulty in HBO’s critically acclaimed The Wire; the show ran for five seasons, with West directing an episode in the final season. Other television credits include The Affair opposite Ruth Wilson, The Hour, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe, and ITV’s Appropriate Adult, for which he won a TV BAFTA.

Dominic's theatre credits include Sir Peter Hall’s production of The Seagull, for which he won the Ian Charleson Award for Best Newcomer; Peter Gill’s production of The Voysey Inheritance at the Royal National Theatre; David Lan’s West End production of As You Like It; and Trevor Nunn’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock 'n’ Roll. West captivated audiences as the title role in Butley at the Duchess Theatre and as Iago in Othello at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. In 2016 he finished his run in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Josie Rourke for the Donmar Warehouse.



Since graduating from RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), Kyle Soller has acquired an impressive body of work across stage, screen and film. He won ‘Outstanding Newcomer’ at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards and was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in Anthony Page’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  His break out theatre role came in 2010 in a revival of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, and he was acclaimed the following year for his role in Gogol’s comedy The Government Inspector at The Young Vic. Other theatre credits include The Faith Machine at the Royal Court and Edward II at The National Theatre. Kyle made his Broadway debut in 2012 in Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

On television, Kyle is ‘Francis Poldark’ in the BBC’s hugely popular adaptation of Poldark, and he starred in the final part of The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses for BBC Two/PBS as well as appearing in the BBC One adaptation of JB Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls, the Sky One comedy drama You, Me and the Apocalypse and the sitcom Bad Education. Film credits include The Keeping Room, directed by Daniel Barber, and Monsters: Dark Continent, the sci-fi sequel to Gareth Edwards’s alien-invasion film Monster. He can also be seen in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina as ‘Korsunsky’ and Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate. Kyle sparkled in the National Theatre’s 2016-2017 production of Patrick Marber’s Hedda Gabler, directed by Ivo van Hove. His new feature film is the 2017 psychological thriller Marrowbone, directed by Sergio G. Sanchez.



Penelope Wilton has had a long career in all manner of the arts, particularly theatre. She received widespread acclaim when she played Gertrude alongside Jude Law's Hamlet in 2009 and has won a number of awards in all fields including an Evening Standard Theatre Award for her run in The Chalk Garden at the Donmar. Film roles include appearances in The French Lieutenant's WomanCry FreedomIrisCalendar GirlsShaun of the DeadBelleThe History Boys; and she was part of the hugely successful box office hit films Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I and II. Over the last few years she has been seen on television playing Isobel Crawley in the multi-award winning ITV series Downton Abbey and more recently in ITV’S Brief Encounters.



Annabel Mullion graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama as that year's winner of the Carlton Hobbs Award for Radio. She went on to work at Manchester Royal Exchange in The Rivals and Coyote Ugly, directed by Marianne Elliott. She played Mona in Channel 4's adaptation of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, and spent nine months in the West End playing Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls, directed by Stephen Daldry. She had a starring role in the film adaptation of Edward St Aubyn's Mother's Milk alongside Jack Davenport. Her most recent credits include Final Portrait, directed by Stanley Tucci, and Lady Beatrice Gifford in ITV's Victoria. Annabel was also a muse of artist Lucian Freud, who painted three portraits of her.



Robert Ashby trained at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). He spent five years with the RSC, where, amongst a number of roles, he played Bolingbroke opposite Richard Pasco in Richard II and Ryumin in Maxim Gorki's Summerfolk, directed by David Jones, which won an OBI Award in New York in 1975. Robert has been in countless television, film, radio and theatre productions, and played Nehru in the 1998 film Jinnah, which starred Christopher Lee and James Fox.




Jonathan Bailey is best known for his work in television; he has played parts as eclectic as reporter Olly Stevens in ITV’s Broadchurch, Leonardo da Vinci in the BBC’s Leonardo and cyber hacker Psi in Doctor Who. Other recent TV credits include appearances in W1A (BBC); Crashing (Channel 4); Hooten and the Lady (Sky); and Michaela Coel's Chewing Gum (E4). Jonathan has been widely praised for his stage performances, which include roles in The Last Five Years (St. James' Theatre); American Psycho (Almeida Theatre); Othello (National Theatre); South Downs (Harold Pinter Theatre); The House of Special Purpose (Chichester); and Pretend You Have Big Buildings (Royal Exchange Theatre). His film credits include Five Children and It, Testament of Youth and the upcoming Donald Crowhurst biopic The Mercy with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz.

         "HEAD SWAMI"

         "HEAD SWAMI"

Ranjit Krishnamma has acted professionally for over twenty years, working in radio, television, theatre and film. Recent performances onstage have been for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Arcola Theatre and the English Touring Theatre at the Liverpool Playhouse, as well as roles in popular productions of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Dara, both at the National Theatre.

Ranjit has also worked extensively in television, appearing in shows such as The Life and Adventures of Nick NicklebyCasualtySilent WitnessLaw and OrderDoctors; and Little Britain. His film credits include A Hundred StreetsBlitzA Good Sharma; High Heels and Low Lives; New Year’s Day; and Shooters.



Tibu Fortes trained at the Drama Centre London. Recent credits include Emma Rice's A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Globe Theatre and a stint in The Musketeers on the BBC. Tibu also spent 6 years with the National Youth Theatre. 



A graduate of RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), Gerard Horan has undertaken a remarkable range of work on stage and screen. His film credits include roles in Kenneth Branagh’s As You Like It, Roger Donaldson's The Bank Job and Bill Condon’s forthcoming Beauty and the Beast. Gerard has performed in Ian Rickson’s production of The Weir at The Royal Court, Michael Grandage’s Richard III at the Sheffield Crucible, Rickson’s Jerusalem at The Royal Court, Nick Hytner’s One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Trevor Nunn’s All That Fall at the Jermyn Street Theatre, and Josie Rourke’s The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse, among many other productions. His television credits include appearances in Dancing on the Edge (BBC), Kingdom (ITV), The Detectorists (BBC) and Outlander (Starz). 




Manish Gandhi trained at LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) on a full scholarship. He was included in the British Council’s 2016 Global list of 33 cultural influencers from around the world promoting freedom and equality. His work in theatre includes roles in Now We Are Here (Young Vic Theatre), Brown Shakespeare (Efua Theodora Sutherland Drama Studio, Legon-Accra), Rizwan (FTII Pune), Limbo (Prithvi Theatre Mumbai), and Cock (Prithvi Theatre, National Centre of Performing Arts, Mumbai). His film credits include appearances in That Transient Interval (Whistling Woods International), Chai Shai Biscuits (Picture thoughts), and Rizwaan (FTII Pune), while his work for television includes Rides Upon the Storm (DR/ARTE), Judwa Raja (Disney), and Na Bole Tum (Viacom 18).


THE ANIMALS, a selection from the book The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, is presented by Katherine Bucknell.


Simon Callow as Christopher Isherwood.
Alan Cumming as Don Bachardy.  

Music by Edmund Jolliffe.

Recorded in London at The Rhythm Studio with James Carey and at Heavy Entertainment with David Roper. 

Post production by Tomer Run.

Editing by Katherine Bucknell and Shani Erez. 


A MEETING BY THE RIVER, a play by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy based on Isherwood’s 1967 novel, was adapted for podcast by Katherine Bucknell.


Dominic West as Patrick.

Kyle Soller as Oliver.

Penelope Wilton as Margaret.

Annabel Mullion as Penelope.

Robert Ashby as Tarun Maharaj.

Jonathan Bailey as Tom.

Ranjit Krishnama as Head Swami.

Tibu Fortes as Second Swami.

Gerard Horan as Rafferty.

Manish Gandhi as Asim.

Directed by Anthony Page.

Music by Edmund Jolliffe.

Assistant Director Shani Erez.

Casting by Amy Ball.

Production assistant Xenobe Purvis.

Recorded in London at The Sound House with Phil Horne. 


Produced by Katherine Bucknell and Shani Erez.

Website by Xenobe Purvis.

Titles and credits read by Shani Erez. 

Podcast conceived by Joe Rodota with Katherine Bucknell.

Don Bachardy, Katherine Bucknell, Penguin Random House, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux donated rights for this podcast which is underwritten by The Christopher Isherwood Foundation.
The Isherwood-Bachardy letters and stage scripts are deposited at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

We would like to thank Pravrajika Vrajaprana of the Vedanta Society of Southern California and Swami Tyagananda, Head of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston; Halley Goswami for his recording made at Belur Math; Dilip Subramanian for his recording of chanting from the Vedas; Peregrine Andrews of Moving Air; Rosanna Boscawen; Vilma Catbagan; Gregory Evans; Clara Farmer; Georgina Godwin; David Hockney; Chris Hodges; Susan Hodson; Laura Madley; Lucy Maguire; Tina Mascara and Guido Santi; Kirsty Robinson; Freddy Sledge; HRH Princess Sarvath El Hassan; Xafar Sobhan; Rashid Suhrawardy; Dan Vo; Susanna White; Jimmy Wilson; Sarah Chalfant, Luke Ingram, Alex Davison and The Wylie Agency.

Special thanks to cast and creatives who donated time to this podcast.


Praise for The Animals Podcast:

“Simon Callow and Alan Cumming provide wonderful readings of Isherwood’s love letters”
— The Financial Times
“The letters [between Isherwood and Bachardy]... make for fascinating listening, and push at the boundaries of what long-form podcasts can achieve... electrifying”
— The Economist
“It’s easy to get lost in the joyful, spiky love story of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, whose love letters from vintage Hollywood underpin a great new podcast... The letters are a joy, combining cheeky humour with romance.”
— The Guardian
“Read by Simon Callow and Alan Cumming, these loving, funny, clever letters are brought brilliantly to life.”
— Sunday Independent (Ireland)
“Cumming... is an ideal mincing Bachardy, exuding both boyish naivete and feline intensity. Callow’s stately Isherwood is the perfect counterbalance... [L]istening to these voices flirting, and yearning, and quarreling, I felt as though I was privy to something private, something intimate, but something grand.”
— The L.A. Times