Radio review: Heading To Paradise

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Producer David Morley is unrivalled in turning true events into radio dramas, taking an investigative stance on tough issues. They include his 2013 play, The Iraq Dossier, the result of sifting through evidence offered to multiple official inquiries into the invasion of Iraq.

His new drama moves into emotional terrain, probing the ordinary lives and loves of some of the nearly 300 people killed when flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine on July 17 last year.

Hindsight is a powerful and dangerous tool. It can cheapen the dramatisation of real life tragedies or be used to ramp up sentiment or produce thriller-style cliffhangers. Morley’s script steers around potential pitfalls by concentrating on the domestic, humdrum moments experienced by half a dozen or so of the passengers as they anticipate ‘heading to paradise’, as one says with horrifying prescience.

Dirk Maggs directs with a light touch: background music is poignant but uncloying and the ensemble cast is buoyantly naturalistic. Joe Caffrey as John Alder, 63, and Daniel Weyman playing Liam Sweeney, 28, the Newcastle United fans en route to follow their team around New Zealand, are particularly affecting in their unassuming jollity. 

Performances avoid the exclamatory even as plans are changed, last minute nerves quelled, and the race to the departure gate is executed with minutes to spare before the characters under the spotlight board the doomed flight. When intimations of mortality or utterances of endearment come amid the maelstrom of normality, they hit like a thunderclap.

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A year after flight MK17 was shot down, victims’ stories are told with pathos and subtlety