“What is it? A drama, a documentary?”
A couple of short radio reviews, as with having to have done a fair bit of travelling over the last weeks, I’ve had ample time to listen to things. First up was a fascinating piece called The Last Breath, which I particularly admired for being something quite challenging, both in subject matter and form, even in the afternoon drama slot on Radio 4. Created by Ben Fearnside with Anita Sullivan and set in a 2018 UK where assisted suicide has been legalised, it chronicles the attempts of a radio producer – Anita – to profile an artist – Ben – who is making a piece of modern art which will be the capture of someone’s dying breath in a jar and displayed for all to see.
Fearnside and Sullivan’s work sits somewhere between documentary and drama – real people and real names are utilised in the telling of what is a fictional story (I couldn’t quite work out why there had to be one fictional character, though it was pleasure to get to hear Nicola Walker’s sonorous voice again) which posed and worked through, if not providing necessarily neat answers, to some powerful questions. The ethics of ending one’s own life, the ethics of representing that in whatever form, the role that art has to play in peoples’ lives, to entertain, to educate, to provoke. I wasn’t mad keen on the use of music as I couldn’t quite see what it added to the show as a whole, but overall I found it a rather strong piece of radio drama.
Next up was the classic serial The Diary of a Nobody, a Victorian novel I hadn’t heard of before by George and Weedon Grossmith, adapted here by Andrew Lynch into two hours of gloriously silly and highly entertaining froth. The blurb on the website described it as having a sitcom feel and this was completely true and meant it was perfect for whiling away a lengthy train journey as it pootled along telling stories from the life of the Pooters, a lower-middle-class family and those around them.
Told from the diary-keeping perspective of Carrie Pooter, a personable turn by Katherine Parkinson, who recorded the travails of her buffoon of a husband Charles – Johnny Vegas in a lovely performance of restrained comedy – and son Lupin, Andrew Gower, the humour was always gentle, rather than raucous, but always affectionately drawn and so it really was excellent fun to listen to. Matters were assisted by an excellent supporting cast too – Adrian Scarborough and Stephen Critchlow as ever-present friends, Sinéad Matthews in brilliant form as a slightly dippy maid and John Guerrasio’s storming Hardfur Huttle. Part one has gone I think, but part two is still on the iPlayer.