Review: The Memory of Water / And Then There Were None / A Special Kind of Dark, Radio 4

“You’ve got that slight edge in your voice, like a blunt saw”

Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is probably due a high-profile revival, not least for the richness of its female roles but until then, this radio adaptation will more than suffice. Starring Linda Bassett, Lesley Manville and Elizabeth Berrington as three sisters who reconvene after their mother’s death, Stephenson explores different reactions to grief through the prism of shared memories, or rather how the three women have significantly different memories of the same events. There’s an elegiac beauty to the way in which the familial bond asserts and reasserts itself even as long-held secrets are unearthed and emotional truths about the present aired, and the sheer quality of the cast make it a fantastic piece of radio drama. 

A Special Kind of Dark is a much more challenging prospect and whilst it was hard to assess how I really felt about it, given its noir-ish twists and turns and narrative unreliability, it was nice to have such a complex piece of writing to listen to. The story is told by Caspar, who starts an affair with unhappy neighbour Helene but when she is found brutally murdered, is arrested and declared criminally insane. Over the course of a year, he tells psychologist Elodie Testoud of his suspicions of Helene’s husband, the politically ambitious Felix but given we only get Caspar’s version of events, it is never clear when he is telling the truth or lost in a Marlowe-style reverie. It is appealing performed and directed but cumulatively feels as clear as mud, writer Adrain Penketh is so determinedly obtuse that any genuine clues that might exist feel lost.

And Then There Were None is one of Agatha Christie’s most enduring thrillers, a genuinely excellent thriller but as with Murder on the Orient Express, it can never really be as good as the first time once the mystery of the murders is revealed. Having seen it on the stage when it last played in the West End, I thus listened to Joy Wilkinson’s radio adaptation of the story with more interest as to how it functioned as a piece of radio drama than a murder mystery per se. And whilst there were aspects I did enjoy, I didn’t always find it to be the most successful of enterprises. It cleaves closely to the original novel and makes great use of a chilling repetition of the Ten Little Soldier Boys rhyme that is so key to the plot, but never fully created the unsettling sense of fear that ought to plague this household of odds and sods who are forced to face a kind of retribution. 

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