Saturday 20 January 2018

Radio: A Curious surprise - but not as much as UK election

David Cameron
David Cameron
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

One of the very best things about radio is its constant capacity to surprise. I suppose, because the medium is relatively cheap to produce (relative, anyway, to television), they can take risks, take a punt, give something a go and see how it works out.

Curiosity (Sunshine 106.8FM, Sun 7pm) was both a risk, ostensibly, and a surprise in how enjoyable it was. I say a surprise because this hour-long radio play was written and directed by Amanda Brunker, who would not be known for either of those things.

She would be known as a former Miss Ireland, a newspaper columnist, a writer of Jackie Collins-style bonkbusters and a fixture on the Irish celebrity scene. So your first impressions of Curiosity might be, this can't be any good. Shouldn't they be getting "proper" authors, like John Banville or Donal Ryan, to write plays for radio?

Well, here's mud in your eye: Curiosity was pretty damn good. It was mostly funny, clever and engaging. It locked in the listener's interest from the first lines and held it to the end. It zipped along at a nice pace, and provided moments of wistfulness, thoughtfulness and, yes, surprise.

The playing, by Leigh Arnold and Norma Sheahan, was extremely good. Leigh was a self-pitying woman whose husband has left her for another man; Norma the rather odd lady she meets at a health-farm type place during a building-wide outbreak of sick stomachs.

They get talking, lumped together by circumstance, and soon notions of sexual fluidity are becoming blurred. What does it mean to be gay, or bisexual? Is it all just dependent on the precise specifications of individual moments?

Perhaps the strongest element of Curiosity was its structural simplicity: two easily differentiated characters, one room, one (more-or-less) theme. That can sometimes be a problem with radio plays, where an abundance of people and locations can lead to confusion for the listener, especially if the characters have similar accents and personality types. Not the greatest drama you'll ever hear, but certainly as well-written and entertaining as most plays that air on radio, which tend to be grim, dour, depressing and somewhat self-absorbed. And Brunker's play will enjoy a three-week run at Dublin theatre Smock Alley in October before heading off on tour - so it's not just me who likes it.

Speaking of surprises - and drama - the UK general election, after a dull campaign, threw up the greatest plot-twist in British politics since John 'Grey Underpants' Major arose from the dead in the final reels of that (to non-Tories) classic horror movie, Election '92.

The polls got it wrong again this time, as David Cameron romped home to an outright majority that nobody had predicted. The Week in Westminster (BBC Radio 4, Sat 11am) sifted through the ashes afterwards with three leading political journalists: Steve Richards of the UK Independent, Isabel Hardman of The Spectator, Paul Waugh of Politics Home.

Continuing our theme, Steve said of the "shock of the result" that there would be "no more compelling drama on the west end of London or anywhere else this year". It was an "epic tragedy" for Labour and the Lib Dems, with "leaders falling", having been "tormented by hope". Paul added that the count had provided "electrifying drama".

Interestingly (from my perspective anyway), all four contributors had almost exactly the same accent. So I guess it's not just in Ireland that media people all seem to lose their original accents, no matter where they've come from.

There's something Mr Cameron should think about addressing: "Save Britain's diverse range of accents! You don't all have to sound like a version of me! There's nothing wrong with the way Yorkshire or Cornwall people speak!"

Finally, the world of radio was in shock this week with the death, aged just 67, of veteran broadcaster Derek Davis. He'd been semi-retired for the last few years, but by ironic chance, appeared on The Marian Finucane Show (Radio 1, Sat-Sun 11am) only last Sunday, as part of a panel discussing obesity.

He was his usual charming, perceptive self, with those softened Co Down tones and that huge warmth which made him very popular with Irish audiences for decades. He'll be missed.

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