Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

Barely-a-Review: Richard III, Radio 3


So wise, so young, they say, do never live long

I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.  

Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4

“If only money were not an obstacle”

With fortuitous timing, given how much Trollope I’d read and watched at the tail end of 2012, came this radio adaptation, by noted author Rose Tremain, of The Eustace Diamonds. The manipulative Lizzie Eustace claims ownership of a marvellous diamond necklace, a family heirloom which she claims was given to her by her late husband Florian. As the Eustaces close rank in an attempt to reclaim what they believe should not have left the family, Lizzie looks to find another situation to keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to but finds that the case of these precious stones follows her and blights all her attempts to form new attachments.

We’re 2 episodes in, with one left, and I am really enjoying it this far. Whether the novel is simpler in terms of its dramatis personae or if Tremain has simplified the plot in her adaptation (I’ve not read the novel myself…), it feels like the easiest of Trollope’s stories to follow of the three I have encountered recently, yet it doesn’t suffer for it. Pippa Nixon’s Lizzie is a wonderfully ambiguous figure, an inveterate fibber and yet one doesn’t want to quite dismiss her as a complete liar and as she works her way through the smitten men in her life – Joseph Kloska’s Frank and Jamie Glover’s Lord Fawn, and later Adrian Scarborough’s cheeky Lord George – one can imagine exactly why they fall for her charms. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4”

Radio Review: The Last Breath / The Diary of a Nobody

“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. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Last Breath / The Diary of a Nobody”

Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre

“The closer you are to the truth, the harder it is talk about it”

Loyalty is the debut play from Sarah Helm, a journalist and author who also happens to be the wife of Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff. This privileged position made her an intimate witness to the weeks leading up to the 2003 invasion which she opposed and it is that that she has developed into this work – described as ‘a fictionalised memoir’ – of the struggle of a chief of staff Nick to balance the personal and political as he advises a Prime Minister named Tony who is edging closer to invading Iraq with an American President named George whilst ignoring his own conscience and the stridently vocal objections of his wife Laura. But it is fiction remember, at least some of the names are different…

The first half is genuinely excellent. Helm locates it firmly in the Stockwell home of Nick and Laura and we become observers along with Laura and her trusty notepad as Nick is involved with phone calls between the Prime Minister and figures of global importance discussing highly sensitive matters which we overhear. How this refracts back through their daily life is endlessly fascinating: the top secret documents just lying around the house, her frustrations at not being able to write about these things, the tensions caused by her friendship with an ex who just happens to be a journalist, the casualness with which he discusses the PM with their Polish au pair, even the level of security necessary in their home, the level of detailing is just undeniably authentic and convincing. And Maxine Peake as Laura anchors the play with an exceptional performance. Continue reading “Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre”