Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Radio 4 Review - 4 Plays

Radio 4 Plays

I’ve been listening to some very good plays on Radio 4, and here are some details and my comments.

Sophie's Lights

A delightful festive drama about a little Jewish girl's belief in Santa.

A father is torn between his Jewish heritage and his love for his daughter, when she becomes convinced that Santa Claus is real. A heart-warming festive drama about learning to live in two places at once.

Written by Adam Usden.
Directed by Charlotte Riches.


This is a wonderful play about faith, and how for those on the fringes of faith, there can be guilt at being between the secular and religious worlds. The father Alan is concerned about Sophie’s belief in Father Christmas, and not sure if she should be taking part in a nativity play. As a young Jewish girl, as well as attending Primary School, she also receives instruction on the Jewish faith and the meaning of Hanukkah.

The criticism of the teacher on Sophie’s belief in Santa Claus, which is upsetting other children, and the guilt over his own faith, causes stresses in Alan’s marriage to Rachel, but, rather surprisingly after a Midnight Mass he attends (to keep warm after he has left home), a priest gives him advice, and there is a tender reconciliation with his wife and daughter, and they discover that Sophie has learned all about Hanukkah and come top in her class

In the end, it is not what you believe, but who you trust and love, regardless of belief, that matters, and brings reconciliation.

Mr Betjeman's Class

1 / 2. By Jonathan Smith. First of two plays celebrating one of Britain's best-loved poets. 1928. John Betjeman, aged 23, has left Magdalen College - sent down without a degree. He's spent three years at Oxford being a class-conscious social climber, clowning his suburban way into the country house weekend set. With his ambitions in ruins, he's reduced to acting as cricket master in a prep school. He knows nothing of cricket. Stars Benjamin Whitrow in his final role before his death at the age of 80.

Producer/director: Bruce Young

(Jonathan Smith's second play, Mr Betjeman Regrets, is at 2.15pm on Boxing Day).


The focus of this play is the older Betjeman looking back on his younger self, just after he was sent down from Oxford. The older Betjeman, played by Whitrow, is full of regrets and sees the past very differently from his younger self (Philippe Edwards) who is rather a pompous and pretentious figure, often “sailing close to the wind” at the prep school where he teaches.

It is hard to make the connection between the two parts, and see how the younger became the older, because there is almost nothing in common between them in both manner and outlook on the world. Obviously people do change, but I found this jarring, and it didn’t really work that well for me.

Mr Betjeman Regrets

2/2. By Jonathan Smith. Stars Benjamin Whitrow who died shortly before he could finish recording this play. His role was completed by Robert Bathurst, a friend and fellow Betjeman enthusiast. Towards the end of his career, Sir John Betjeman is a national treasure. He's become an immensely popular TV and radio performer, selling over two million copies of his Collected Poems in his lifetime. But he continues to worry about his chequered career and complex personal life.

Lady Elizabeth ..................... ...........................JOANNA DAVID
Lady Penelope ..................... .....................SARAH CROWDEN
Producer/director: Bruce Young.


This is the much stronger of the two plays, which is all set in one time period, close to the end of his life, when Betjeman has become “a national treasure”. You can understand his love of Cornwall where he grew up, his failing marriage, his connection to his daughter, and the widening gap between himself and his son, which he wants to amend before too late.

And there is also the mistress in Cornwall, who understands and loves him, and where he finds companionship in his twilight years.

It is a charming piece, and could just as easily be standalone as bookended with the first.

By Elizabeth Lewis.

Daphne and Ben met as teenagers; theirs was a love story of passion and poetry. Now, more than 20 years later, they meet again and return to the coastal cottage where they first found love. But when they arrive at Dragon's Back Bay, they are haunted by the ghosts of a past that it's impossible to recapture.

A strange and haunting hymn to lost love and the inevitability of passing time.

Directed by James Robinson


This is a strange surreal tale of two former lovers, Daphne and Benjamin, who split when very young (in their late teens) returning to a cottage where they first became intimate as lovers, but now in old age. But time fractures – well done by scene setting moving between daylight and bright sunlight and warmth of summer, and cold, wet, winter night with only the occasional glimpse of the moonlight.

As time breaks again and again, they see snatches of themselves, and hear their former selves, and then realise they can meet themselves. What happens next, as they sail round dragon’s back rock, is a voyage of remembering the pain of the past, and healing the hurt.

It is a fantastical but beautiful time travel play.

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