Review – A Larkin Double, Radio 4

“His impulse is to run away, but there’s nowhere to run to”

Philip Larkin is well known as a poet but fresh out of university at Oxford, he wrote two novels, both of which have been dramatized for Radio 4 into hour-long dramas. First up was Jill, adapted by Robin Brooks, a rites of passage tale of the experiences of introverted Huddersfield boy John Kemp as he is thrust into university life also at Oxford – Larkin clearly drawing on personal experiences to paint a gorgeously sensitive portrayal of a young man struggling to come to terms with his place in this world and following his journey into a more seasoned maturity.

Fiona McAlpine’s production works so well mainly due to the pitch-perfect casting of Samuel Barnett as Kemp, the main figure and narrator of much of the story. His melodious voice – always sounding one part on the verge of wonder, one part matter-of-fact honesty – is well suited to radio, full of character and conveying much of the social discomfort of a man both languishing out of his milieu in terms of class and dealing with the intensity of first-flush homosexual longings for his roommate, the charismatic scoundrel Christopher Warner, into whose elevated societal orbit he finds himself locked.       Continue reading “Review – A Larkin Double, Radio 4”

Review: The Hired Man, Mercury Theatre

“You take yourself with you, wherever you go”

Sampling the best musical theatre that this country has to offer can prove to be a time-consuming business as it is increasingly the case that some of the best work is being done by theatres outside of London. Sheffield, Chichester and Leicester have all made it onto my theatres that I regularly visit now and after this stellar in-house production of Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man (in a co-production with Leicester’s Curve), it seems that Colchester’s Mercury Theatre might be joining that list.

It helps that the show can lay claim to being one of the best new British musicals of recent decades – Goodall’s sweeping, folk-tinged score marries strikingly with Melvyn Bragg’s book, based on his own novel inspired by the tough life of his grandfather in the Cumbrian hills, and what results is a work of hugely elegiac beauty. Stretching from 1989 through to 1921, The Hired Man covers a definitive period of British history in depicting the often grim realities of life in the more rural areas of the country at a time of great social and economic upheaval.  Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Mercury Theatre”