Radio Drama:
By Anita Sullivan, Sarah Wooley, Barnaby Kay
Harry Turnbull

Heart of Darkness
Radio 4 January 17

Featuring Georgia Henshaw and Peter Bankole
Written by Anita Sullivan
Directed by James Robinson


Last year a trio of African tales were broadcast on Radio 4 which led me to reference Conrad in a review on these pages. This re-imagining of Heart of Darkness was in the pipeline at that stage and was only actually commissioned in October.

In this production, Marlowe is transformed into a female, Maya, and Kurtz has gone AWOL working for a large corporation.

Writer Anita Sullivan emphasised the point that nation colonialism may be largely a thing of the past but that company’s with global operations are still very much at the heart of resource extraction and human exploitation.

That reminded me of Unilever, a company I had dealings with for many years and is famous for its philanthropic founder Lord Leverhulme. I thought I knew a lot about the company which created the picture-postcard model village of Port Sunlight for its workers, but apparently not. For only recently have I learnt it was a major player in Congo, using forced labour for many years. You will not find this in its history pages.

There are any number of older stories that have a peculiar resonance today and this is one of them. As Anita Sullivan explained to me: “My interest in Conrad is longstanding. My first theatre play was a notoriously terrible adaptation of Lord Jim, with a student theatre company. Thirty years and sixty plays later, my interest was rekindled when I read about oil prospecting under swamp forest in the Republic of Congo, and the toxic mineral-grab in Eastern and Southern DRC.

“I thought of Heart of Darkness, reimagining it as a contemporary story where corporations replace colonial powers as the exploiting force. I was excited by the idea, but also daunted by both the book’s literary status and cultural legacy.”

Anita called on some local experts to help her gain a penetrating insight into modern Congo. She added: “I wanted my own version to put DRC characters at the heart of the story as active protagonists who spoke for themselves, in their own languages. I wanted the landscape to be rich and beautiful, with 'light glancing off the stained-glass wings of enormous dragonflies, and iridescent Congo sunbirds'. I also knew I was carrying an ‘intolerable presumption’ of understanding, and a big responsibility.”

The result is a haunting production which reverberates both with the rhythm of the interior and the heartbeat of history. Our modern day Marlowe is played with a quietly serene but expressive presence by narrator Georgia Henshaw. She travels upriver to find Kurtz who had been working on an environmental impact assessment report.

A dark interior, still full of horror.

Rodgers & Hart & Hammerstein

Drama on 3. 27/12/20

Featuring Jamie Parker.
Written by Sarah Wooley
Directed by Abigail Le Fleming

It's curious that so many dramatisations of revered artists focus on their human frailties. In this case it's lyricist Larry Hart who comes in for the treatment. A paranoid drunk who lived with his mother and worried about his short stature.

Despite’s Hart’s gradual decay, the songwriters were phenomenally successful; who could forget such lines as 'The city's clamour can never spoil, the dreams of a boy and goil'.

Fame and fortune, so often bedfellows of tragedy.

Of course, Richard Rodgers went on to even more success in musicals and films with his next songwriting partner Oscar Hammerstein.

Breaking Blake
Radio 4 19/1/21

Featuring Michael Maloney.
Produced by Barnaby Kay

I always imagined George Blake to be a cunning spy who had been sprung from jail in an outlandish plot masterminded by the KGB.

The real story - if this is it - is more like a Terry Thomas comic caper.

Some anti-nuclear activists tossed a rope ladder over the walls of Wormwood Scrubs and drove him in a campervan to East Germany.

The motive was apparently outrage over Blake's 42 year sentence. One of them, Michael Randall, is still around. I wonder if he tuned in to this remarkable sixties farce?

Harry Turnbull

Thanks Harry for these reviews .... ND


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