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Radio Review – Drama

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Patrick Hamilton was the chronicler of a particular kind of urban desolation. In his novel, Hangover Square, he recorded the sensations of the outcast, even as he mingled in the capital’s pub and club life. His short thriller, Rope, filmed by Hitchcock, emanated a sinister claustrophobia.

Unknown to me was Money With Menaces, a short play written specially for radio and first broadcast by the Home Service in 1937. This new production, marking the centenary of Hamilton’s birth, crackled with the most delicious tension. On a sultry summer’s day a Fleet Street tycoon, Mr Carruthers, is telephoned by an apparent stranger, Mr Poland, who proceeds, in a long-winded and tortuous way, to inform him that his daughter has been kidnapped.

Poland, played by David Collings, wallows in the pleasure he obtains from eroding the patina of confidence displayed by Carruthers, played by Stephen Thorne. Poland relays his instructions by telephone, as Carruthers runs from office to bank to club to amusement arcade to Wimbledon home, straining to get to the next available phone ready for his next message.

The superficial politeness of the conversations signal the period nature of the piece. The use of the phone calls, with their palpable shifts in the power balance between the two men, make the play ideally suited to radio, although I could imagine it in a Hitchcock-style movie adaptation.

Carruthers’ stress is compounded by humiliation when he finally discovers that his daughter had never been abducted and it is Poland’s revenge for childhood slights inflicted on him by the tycoon, a former schoolmate. Hamilton’s facility for revealing cruel human traits gives this thriller an unnerving potency.

If Hamilton conveyed misery in print, received opinion has Leonard Cohen as assisting the depressive on his or her downward ascent – although the Canadian master of melodic doleur always puts me in a rather cheery mood. Esther Wilson, currently working with the National Theatre Studio, astutely examined the internal plumbing of a family whose student son is diagnosed with depression in Hiding Leonard Cohen. With Paul Copley and Barbara Marten as the parents in varied states of bewilderment and Lee Ingleby as their son, the play unravels the emotional skeletons in their marriage without plumping for a psychologically puerile cause of their problems. I noticed with some satisfaction that the moment the father began whistling Suzanne, a new healing mood arrived in the family.

Sex with menaces was the undercurrent of a rollicking adaptation by Judith French of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. The 16-year-old housemaid at the centre of the domestic storm was played by Sheridan Smith, whose husky tones denoted that this ingenue was not as shocked by her master’s overtures as her artless simpering indicated. Tim McInnery was the caddish Squire B with Avril Elgar as his mother, Lady B, starring in a showstopping romp of a death scene.

Ian Mcpherson’s comic one-man show, The Chair, previously seen at the Edinburgh Fringe, translated well to radio with its theme of a melancholic author of a history of humour – Comedy: From The Dawn of Time to Last Tuesday Week – taking phone calls and opening his post to nothing but disappointment. All the while a Scottish DJ pumped out a spiel which was the perfect accompaniment to a spot of wrist-slashing. Mcpherson’s comedy has the fantastical quality of Flann O’Brien’s writing.

James Baldwin’s stirring drama, Amen Corner, was given an appropriately uplifting production by Rishi Sankar, with the dramatisation by Cheryl Martin. Claire Benedict played the leader of an evangelical congregation in fifties Harlem, who was faced with a crisis when her estranged jazz musician husband came home to die. In an emotionally charged scene with her spouse (David Webber), she was forced to face her part in their misery and learn the lessons of humility before she lost her son (Jimmy Akinbola). Interspersed with gloriously orchestrated gospel music was a series of heated confrontations between virtue and sin, redemption and loss, forgiveness and resentment.


Money With Menaces

R4, Friday, May 28

Hiding Leonard Cohen

R4, Monday, May 24

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded

R4, from Sunday, May 30

The Chair

R4, Friday, June 4

Amen Corner

BBC World Service, Saturday, May 29

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