Harry Turnbull

Toby Jones cultivated a love of Moliere during a period studying mimodynamics at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. Radio is no medium for mime of course but nevertheless Jones’ versatility of expression is very much on show here in an adaptation of The Miser (R3) celebrating the 400th anniversary of the French comic writer’s birth.

The production bounces along in lively fashion with occasional bursts of Abba’s ‘Money, Money, Money’ played on the harpsichord. Jones plays the mean old miser Harpagon whose ambitions for himself and his children are firmly based on financial outcomes. Plenty of modern day allusions in Barunka O’Shaugnessy’s script which reflects that tribulations over love and money with a touch of irony and sarcasm are as relevant now as then.

In Patterdale (R4) we had a midweek afternoon drama that served up a gritty slice of Liverpool life. But whereas in BBC TV’s oppressive cop drama ‘The Responder’ we have an out of towner Martin Freeman affecting a Scouse accent, here we have the bona fide thing with standout performances from youngster Oscar Tyndall and Eithne Brown.

The script by Paul Jones is an Alfred Bradley award winner for northern writers and features a lad called Tommy trying to make his way from his foster parents house to his nan’s. His trek across town also reflects a metaphysical journey from leaving an unstable mum to staying with his nan and then into foster care.

His is no linear story; it is told in scenes and fragments, sequences of alienation and connection, memories coalescing into form. The voice is of a child, a ten year old, but even so conveys a sense of self-awareness about his estranged mother, the pain of grandparents making a bridge of connection and ultimately the middle-class foster parents he longs to escape. The Scouse kid is played with a natural confidence by Tyndall Brown as his long-suffering nan is perfect for conveying Liverpudlian phrases such as ‘me blood pressure’s through the bloody roof’.

Patterdale is but is a road in the rundown area of Smithdown Road inhabited by his nan. A mile away in distance and imagination from the middle-class suburb his foster parents live. That gap is symbolised in the sort of food Tommy loves - egg and chips - and the fancy crap dished up by his foster mother Sophie. During Tommy’s run he narrates his story, but is he running from something to or to something? Writer Paul Jones is a native Liverpudlian who drew on his own experiences: 'Although there are autobiographical aspects to Patterdale I should say I was never in foster care. However I don't think you necessarily have to walk the walk to tell a good story.... Every writer puts something of him or herself into what they produce and of course in this case it's a story set in streets I know well.'

The plot unfolds via flashbacks, as Paul explained: 'I originally wrote this as a short story in a stream of consciousness style and I felt confident it would translate into a listening experience. 'I hope that came across as Pauline Harris and the production team did a great job.' Patterdale is currently on BBC Sounds.

In very stark contrast 2022 has also started with a slew of highbrow efforts with varying degrees of success. Nabokov's Pale Fire presented an esoteric journey through a poetic manuscript from recently murdered writer John Shade. His story is told within the verse whilst the narrator weaves in his own narrative via commentary and text additions. An abstruse piece of work that may perhaps have found a more sympathetic audience late night on Radio 3.

Similarly I question why an hour of primetime Sunday afternoon was devoted to a docudrama about Iranian poet called Let Us Believe In The Dawn of the Cold Season. Forugh Farrokhzad is a feminist icon in Iran an although worthy of airing I am again unsure as to whether this is weekend afternoon fare. Or maybe it is a good idea to bring lesser known artists to wider attention? But whoever thought a Persian poet should be voiced by an American? Incongruous and unnecessary.

Another arcane offering was Berlin Alexanderplatz. Apparently a classic of the Weimar Republic it was rather disjointed and another example of a cardinal audio sin - making things difficult for the listener to follow. The narrator Claes Bang spoke in neutral tones except when pronouncing Germanic names in a markedly 'parody' fashion. Merely my opinion of course, but others may think it a work of breathtaking genius.

We also had a return to the poetic intellectuals who gathered around Lake Geneva in 1816. This time in Darkness we have Lord Byron nursing on life amidst a bleak summer caused by a Volcanic ash cloud.

Cardboard Citizens was a bit of a curious one. The plight of the homeless in previous generations explored via newspaper readings of misdemeanors committed by unfortunates who fell foul of the Vagrancy Act. Not sure this worked as a drama; probably more like documentary material.

One broadcast, Mahabharata Now by B7 Media, really captured my attention as it bore a remarkable similarity to Takeover from Goldhawk Productions which featured in several midweek afternoon slots in July 2021. Both are tales set in India about a billionaire with dynastic family issues in play. Both feature actor Ranjit Kapur and Ayeesha Menon had a hand in writing both. Of course the plotlines diverge in the stories but the concepts are awfully similar. Surely there are enough stories out there without duplicates?

HT, 1 Mar 22

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


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