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Radio review: The Mighty Carlins; Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear

The Mighty Carlins sounds like a comedy acrobatic act, perhaps three men of assorted sizes and shapes being fired out of cannons and tumbling from each others’ shoulders. And in a way, that is what Collin Doyle gives us so masterfully, as father and sons slug it out in an explosion of bruising, recriminatory exchanges, gilded by spot-on comedy that both relieves and reveals.

It is the anniversary of Leo’s wife’s death, and the get-together with Mike and Davey has been decreed by the latter, who proffers a “sharing jar” filled with questions designed to elicit memories of Mom. Inevitably, these are as rancid and confrontational as anything the members of this trio say to each other.

The stomach-knotting tone is set by an ursine growl from Leo (Shane Rimmer, famed for playing Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds), his voice pickled by disappointment. He launches into a generation-gap diatribe on “fiscal conservatism” aimed at his embittered, scheming elder son Mike (Christopher Ragland).

Waiting for Davey, Mike recalls portentously how on a previous anniversary he’d had to “restrain” his brother in the snow. Played by Christian Malcolm, Davey is a soft-mannered walk-over, whose wife has a new money-making scheme – three-in-a-bed porn videos featuring them and a rotund woman.

The dialogue is scatological, hilarious and pointed, telling us all we need to know about their sexual politics. “You’re going to diddle a fat girl?” roars Leo. Davey demurs that she’s only slightly overweight. Leo retorts: “You’re going to diddle a slightly overweight woman?”

Over 90 minutes, the fallout of dysfunctional parenting is presented. Mike reveals a plan to get power of attorney over Leo, whose insanity is proved, he says, by his war on his neighbour, “Dickhead”, whose dog’s turds Leo keeps in the freezer, and which Davey mistakes for chocolate brownies.

Director Paul Blinkhorn orchestrates the guttural opprobrium and speedy altercations while allowing unspoken emotions to gather and surface. For, as tough as the interplay is, there is a potent tenderness as Leo hints at the nature of his wife’s death and mutters: “The things you do for love.”

Rush, rush, rush to Wireless Theatre Company’s website [1] for a free download of this play, garlanded with awards in Doyle’s native Canada, but never previously fully performed here.

Alistair McGowan surfs the inherent difficulties of biographical drama – over-reverence, over-stuffing – with Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear, about the composer Erik Satie, whom he also plays.

The title is taken from the name of one of Satie’s works, describing three leading individuals in his life, including the raucous, nude-trapezing painter Suzanne Valadon (played by Imogen Stubbs), his only lover. Through these characters, McGowan produces a sparkling account of a complex eccentric, whose achievements were rarely recognised in his lifetime.

Two new plays resonate with the pain of the bereaved. Nick Warburton’s Irongate evokes the alternate shadowiness and full sunlight of a walk beside the Thames, as a grief-stricken woman meets an earth-bound spectre, and features utterly credible performances by Emma Fielding and James Fleet.

When I Lost You, by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel, features a lost manuscript about the death of a father, which is found by a mother mourning her son. Although Greg Wise’s emotionally pent-up author never meets Claire Rushbrook’s similarly afflicted Jenny, they learn from each other in intense, vulnerable steps.

Marcy Kahan’s Lunch is about two old friends neatly sidestepping the central issue of their feelings for each other. Performances by Stephen Mangan and Claire Skinner are as delightful as Kahan’s idiosyncratic writing, in a series that is sure to return.

The Mighty Carlins, available to download at www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk [1]
Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear, R4, Monday, July 15
Irongate, R4, Monday, July 22
When I Lost You, R4, Friday, July 19
Lunch, R4, Monday, July 15