Radio Drama:
By Amanda Dalton, Archie Scotney,
David Mamet, Ilana Navaro
Harry Turnbull

The Ventriloquist’s Dummy

Written by Amanda Dalton
Produced by Nadia Molinari
Featuring Christine Bottomley
Broadcast Radio 4 on March 2

Interview with Amanda Dalton

Of all the subjects I’ve written about over the years it never occurred to me to wax lyrical about Irritable Bowel Syndrome. And as a sufferer for decades it’s a subject I am familiar with. But here we have it, an afternoon drama featuring a talking gut, a ventriloquist’s dummy and a real life doctor.

It actually turned out to be quite amusing - especially the contributions form the gurgling gut.. But also informative, for, I took the advice and started talking to my innards with very positive results, and was introduced to the practice of gastromancy. I was intrigued by the subject matter and asked writer Amanda Dalton what prompted her interest. Amanda is a poet and an associate artist with the Royal exchange Theatre in Manchester.

“This is the first time I’ve used documentary in a drama - I’m increasingly interested in the hybrid, mash-up forms of writing and felt this particular play needed that element of a real doctor and therapist talking.

“Nick Read is both, which is unusual, and proved helpful. I’ve had all manner of inflammatory gut problems for over 20 years. IBS is part of the picture for me but I’ve also had other complications - so this wasn’t a directly autobiographical piece but it did draw on a lot of my own experience. “I’m interested in the mind/body symbiosis but wanted to explore it in a way that wasn’t ‘heavy’ or ‘worthy’ . A few years back I was reading something and came across gastromancy. Hadn’t realised this was kind of the origins of ventriloquism. When I read about it - the notion of the wisdom coming from the spirits of the dead inhabiting and speaking from the gut of the gastromancer.

“It occurred to me that this was like ventriloquism and the gut was like the dummy - that transgressive, anarchic, ‘fool’ figure who is frequently an embarrassment or out of control, but usually speaks a kind of truth - though it may not always be what the vent wants to hear. I was also interested in the psychologist Winnicott’s idea of the transitional object - how through talking with, say, a doll - a child will often communicate things s/he cannot communicate to another human being - the role of such objects in our lives etc. Somehow or other all of this came together to create the play.” Christine Bottomley plays Jess, the sufferer who finds talking to her dummy more soothing than her less-than-sympathetic partner.

Sweeney Todd and the string of pearls

Featuring Martin Jarvis
Produced by Jarvis and Ayres for Radio 4
Broadcast 14 and 21 March

The demon barber’s and the pie shop would certainly have some unusual economic challenges in the time of Covid. I assume the pie counter would remain open as an ‘essential business’ but there might be a supply issue. No such problems in the 18th century of course when Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett plied their unsavoury trades.

Marvellous performance from Jarvis as the titled anti-hero whose gruff tones perfectly capture the Fleet Street of 1785. He was able to attract Joanne Whalley, Rufus Sewall and Jonathan Cake to this dark tale of evil enterprise.

(....Based on the novel by Thomas Prest; dram. Archie Scotney. - Ed...)

The Christopher Boy’s Communion

Featuring Rebecca Pidgeon
Produced by Jarvis and Ayres for Radio 4
Broadcast Radio 4 March 8

The husband and wife team of Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres in action again with this adaptation of a David Mamet stage-play. It is introduced with stage directions rather than a soundscape which indicates how this is going to play out, with dialogue very much to the fore. Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pigeon plays Joan, a somewhat deluded anti-semitic Catholic woman whose son has murdered a Jewish girl. She will do anything to get him off, including bribery and demanding the church pulls a few strings.

Radio 4’s Feedback programme got into a lather over her description of the dead girl as a ‘little Jewish slut’ although of course Mamet is Jewish and this sort of language even in today’s climate is considered OK if it’s about one of your own (although I see Manuel is still being referred to as a ‘dago’ on primetime showings of Fawlty Towers on BBC 1).

Mamet claims inspiration from J.B. Priestley although I think the end is more Faustian than Inspector Goole.

French Like Faiza

Featuring Laila Alj
Written by Ilana Navaro
Produced by Nicolas Jackson
Broadcast on Radio 3 21 February .

A French woman of Algerian descent finds herself excluded in the land of liberty and has the bizarre notion that she will get a warmer welcome in Blighty.

Rather curious piece this. A bit too cliched.

For instance, the leading character Faiza,leaps into bed with someone then objects when he admires her brown skin and when he apologies and calls her a ‘woman of colour’ that too is scorned. Oh what a minefield it must be out there in the real world.

On another occasion someone mispronounces her surname as ‘Ramadan’ and she declares that all British people can’t tell an Algerian from an Indian. I mean this is like clay pigeon shooting, just throw up a few easy targets and blast away without too much thought.

Harry Turnbull

Thanks, Harry, for these reviews .... ND


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