Sweet Talking

By Louis Barfe

Having flagged it up as worth a listen in my Christmas preview, I’m happy to report that Conversations From a Long Marriage (Christmas Eve, Radio 4, 11am) was every bit as good as I’d hoped. Nobody does disdain better than Roger Allam, and he put this to good use as he and his wife, played by Joanna Lumley, went through the Christmas cards they’d received, talking about who they were avoiding and wondering who half of the senders were. No character names are mentioned. Even writer Jan Etherington seems to refer to them as Roger and Joanna. 

By a process of elimination, they worked out that ‘David’ was the chap who had a crush on Lumley’s character at Pilates, bringing her soya lattes. ‘Collapse of stout party’ was assured by the tone of voice in which Allam referred to him as ‘your whey-faced vegan stalker’. This was a half hour of sharp dialogue, but underneath it all was an enormous warmth between the principals. 

They plan some festive passion, but he objects to her suggestion of doing it under the Christmas tree, on a purely logistical basis. Then a friend, recently abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, decides to invite herself over for Christmas lunch, putting paid to that idea. Christmas Eve round the neighbours’ becomes a web of intrigue. The conversation turns to the bombshell of the single Christmas they didn’t spend together. 

When Lumley gives Allam his present, he reminds her that they had agreed they weren’t doing presents this year. She asks him the deadliest question: ‘You didn’t think I meant it, did you?’ Sweetly, it turns out Allam had bought her something anyway.

This is all lovely, funny stuff, with Allam and Lumley complementing each other superbly as they interpret Etherington’s pin-sharp script.