Play by Ear

by Louis Barfe

One of the glories of radio is that if you leave it on, you will hear things that you didn’t plan to hear and be enriched by the process. Television lacks the same power of diversion because it’s so damned needy. It requires your eyes and ears and, ideally, your backside on a seat. However, you can really listen to the radio while getting on with things.

So it was with Thomas Eccleshare’s first radio play, Heather (Radio 4, available on BBC sounds, as iPlayer Radio is now known). It concerns the rise to success of a children’s author, Heather (Charlotte Melia), whose book Greta and the Pen of the Necromancer tops the charts without her publisher, Harry Purville (Rachael Stirling), ever meeting her.

The reclusive rowling-alike demurs every time Harry invites her to lunch. She’s too ill. She doesn’t want to leave her family. Eventually, with the press clamouring for heather to go public, she has a shock confession to make. There is no baby. There is no husband. There is no Heather. ‘Heather’ is really Tariq (Shane Zaza), a prisoner serving life for a heinous crime.

As a whole, the play, directed by Gary Brown, didn’t really work for me. I loved the email exchange between publisher and author, starting sweet and funny, then changing in tone as the horror dawned. As ‘Heather’ explained that her biography was a lie, Harry told her that readers forgive a lot: ‘Lord Byron was a sex addict with a pet bear.’ I also liked Harry visiting Tariq in prison for the first and last time.

However, I felt the final section, exploring good, evil, redemption and how much readers really are willing to forgive through the medium of the final Greta story, was overlong and overdone. I wanted to hear and know more about Harry and Tariq.