Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Two radio plays available on BBC iplayer

Love Me Do by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
Everything Between Us by David Ireland

There aren't many drama reviews on this blog, unless the piece in question is in some way music-related. I've succumbed to the odd post about comedy when the urge has proven irresistible (annoyingly, these get more hits than my pronouncements about doo wop), but in the main I've tried to keep this blog as a logical extension of the online dialogue with Clarke Davis which sparked it off: music is the main focus. But I thought I'd break my rule today because I've just listened to a couple of plays still briefly available on BBC iplayer which seem an interesting pair of bookmarks. I greatly prefer one to the other but both are good fits for their respective slots.

Love Me Do is by Marks and Gran, and I bet it looked great on paper: a drama about living in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis with a Beatles connection. It was a Saturday Play (or Drama, as they cry 'em now) and it did the job: I listened, reasonably engaged, throughout the duration of a supermarket shopping trip today. But it is definitely the kind of play which demands that you do other things as you listen, whether ironing, shopping or - WATCH OUT FOR THAT CYCLIST! Phew.

Had you been obliged to sit still and listen intently to each line, you might have noticed the predictability of some of the dialogue, the weak jokes. Engaged in your daily routine, however, the simplicity of the overall plot - will the colonel get the married American lady stranded in London into bed? - becomes a kind of comforting, enveloping fog, a distraction from the mundanity of what you're doing, still leaving a chunk of your brain free to focus on boring-but-pressing questions (pizza or paella for tea?) without any fear that you might miss some essential detail in the unfolding story.

In a Sunday supplement piece about the workings of DC Thomson, George Rosie once said that the publishers produced a variety of comics, papers and magazines like a baker producing different buns and cakes. That sums up how I feel about Marks and Gran: this was a perfectly serviceable drama but they are, if you will, the Greggs of the writing world, not master bakers. In other words, it wasn't a piece which will linger, but it literally got me from A to B: I am typing this with all the supermarket goodies safely stowed in the fridge, awaiting the touch of my grasping hands.

I was much more taken with a piece on Radio 3, adapted from a stage play; the top image was taken from its page on the BBC Radio 4 website. Called Everything Between Us, it concerned the reunion of two sisters. PG Wodehouse once said there were two types of writing: either a musical comedy without the music (as he characterised his own work - and having written musical comedies in his time he was in a position to know) or really digging down into the human psyche. I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

Everything Between Us fell with the heaviest of thuds into the latter camp. By the end of the play you were in no doubt that absolutely everything the sisters could possibly have said to each other had been said: every itch had been scratched, or rather gouged; every old wound ripped open afresh.

This was a two-hander and you never wanted anyone else to walk into the room, knowing that would dilute the experience. The sisters deliver anecdotes about their separate experiences of humiliation, but there is no sense of the action stalling at such times and Fine Writing taking over. In dominie mode I recall once speaking to a director about A Doll's House, and the fact that it took about ten or twelve pages for Nora to walk out that door; he replied that it needed that time for both Nora and her husband to be absolutely clear that this truly was the end, not a rift that might conceivably be healed at some point in the future, however distant. All possibilities need to be explored.

Well, that's what Everything Between Us does. I won't go into the details of plot, which you should be able to find online easily enough if  you choose, beyond assuring you that not only do the sisters tear lumps out of each other, David Ireland has created a situation which has an immediate urgency - this is not a cosy home visit where tongues are loosened after a few whiskies - and right until the end you are constantly surprised by what is revealed.

It's a play rooted in Northern Ireland although, interestingly, the playwright has said that most of his research was about South Africa. But although it is about a specific time and place, it's also universal, about the power of siblings to inflict hurt on each other.
So if you want to hear a play which is well crafted (like Marks and Gran) but which feels as if the playwright has gone the distance, that nothing has been held back (unlike Marks and Gran) then head for BBC iplayer before it's too late. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee has said that the protagonist must be tested to the limits of his world; I suppose that Everything Between Us is a dual protagonist play, but by the end there is no doubt there is nowhere else for the characters to go.

Both plays are available on BBC iplayer until Saturday October 20th. Click here for Love Me Do and here for Everything Between Us.