With a long overdue trip abroad to exotic Costa Rica finally undertaken (this pandemic has really put a crimp in travel plans), it was time to get back to some regular online reviewing. And what better place to start than on the return flight – especially as there was a three hour delay; some things never change! Buried in the depths of the BA entertainment system was an audio play more generally available on BCC Sounds, namely Life Is A Radio In The Dark written by Will Eno and starring the inimitable Toby Jones; the latter alone meant it was bound to provoke interest. Apparently Eno, an American playwright of some renown wrote the play specifically with Jones in mind.
He plays Davey Maskelyne, a man suffering from amnesia after being caught up in a heist from an art gallery. His testimony would be key to solving the crime and so the police, in the shape of Sergeant Daisy Castor (Fenella Woolgar) have brought in Dr Baines (Colin Stinton) to try and help him recover his memory. The process is a complex one and some careful listening is required to understand its workings. Basically Dr Baines (or Dr Brains as Maskelyne disingenuously refers to him) uses sonic therapy to help his patient to regress to a time of childhood trauma in the belief that everything subsequent to this will spring back into place in the memory bank. Consequently, we learn much about Maskelyne’s early years and gradually come to realise that he is not quite such an innocent bystander as might at first appear. There are also doubts raised about the part played by Baines’ lab assistant Maud (Cecilia Appiah) in the whole affair, especially as she also seems to have a troubled early life. So, the piece delves much deeper than being a simple crime solving puzzle incorporating ideas about personality development, the influence of the past on the present, the nature of truth, the meaning of art and, in the burgeoning Maskelyne/Maud relationship, how victims of trauma can find solace in mutual support.
While this was all a bit heavy going for an overnight flight I took the time to relisten to some aspects when back on the ground and found that this second listen paid rich dividends in this piece of quality drama. Eno has a waspish sense of wit and there’s a degree of playfulness about the writing which recalls Stoppard although I did feel that the play’s “dying fall” was extended just a bit too much; the last third (once the key revelations had been made) could have done with editing down to provide something crisper. Jones, as ever, is excellent in a part that was literally tailor made for him and the rest of the cast give strong support with Woolgar’s acerbic police sergeant being a standout.
Appropriately, director Sally Avens explores the possibilities of audio reproduction throughout the play using well considered soundscapes to set the varying place. This shows how memory itself can be prompted and memories evoked by pertinent sounds which are every bit the equal of visual stimuli. I also liked the way the audio focus kept shifting from character to character rather as different point of view shots might work in a more visual medium such as film.
This is another of the many radio plays which have gathered up under the BBC Sounds banner. There are currently 70 productions available from the Radio 3 Drama strand with more being added for various lengths of time and a further tranche culled from Radio 4 output. Just think how many more flights I could take listening to that little lot!