Sunday, 22 September 2013

Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4

“Love between sexes is war”

Laurie Slade’s adaptation of Strindberg’s The Father was commissioned for Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre last year, but now makes its radio debut as part of Radio 3 season of classics focusing on the changes for women in the late nineteenth century. It is a blistering look at the power struggle in a marriage as two middle-class parents differ hugely on the upbringing of their daughter and clash monumentously in an all-out war to get their own way.

The decks are hardly equally stacked in this version of the battle of the sexes, Strindberg’s own response to Ibsen’s novel take on gender relations in A Doll’s House, as Laura unleashes the limited tools at her disposal to blacken the name of the Captain and cast seeds of doubt about the paternity of Bertha, literally stopping at nothing as the thin line between love and hate drives her to ever more extreme action.

Katy Stephens and Joe Dixon are excellent as the married couple, inextricably linked even as they devour each other and completely unable to step back from their course of action – it’s uneasy listening at times, the charge of misogyny is easily laid at this door, but it is a story and not all women are nice, just as not all men are. What is important is that it sets up this inventive take on marital conflict that burns extremely brightly.

The Broken Word was Tim Fould’s adaptation of his own poem into a rather distressingly bleak tale set during the horrendous colonial violence of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950s Kenya. A young white man returns to his African home in the summer before his departure to university yet finds himself swept up in the vigilantism of the time as the British community took up arms against the Kenyans fighting for independence and satiated their bloodlust whilst the last days of empire still allowed them to.

Fould’s richly dense prose is narrated beautifully by Anton Lesser, highlighting the corruption of basic morality in this narrow-minded world, and later the impact that surrendering to such merciless thrill-seeking had on people such as Gunnar Cauthery’s Tom upon returning to ‘normality’. Brutal but necessary.

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