There aren’t many better things to do on a cold Sunday evening than to curl up in front of the fire, glass in hand, and listen to Radio Three’s Sunday drama. The one this week, The Lost Salford Sioux by Anjum Malik, had unsurprisingly slipped under my theatrical radar so I switched on in total ignorance. I settle down well prepared for a Pinter or a Stoppard, but Salford and long dead Indians have never been on my reading list. They ought to be because once I had attuned my ear and garnered the plot, the play totally absorbed.
That plot is pretty important. Apparently, and the folks of Salford know this, a performer with Buffalo Bill’s Circus died during the troupes visit to this country in 1887 and is buried somewhere in the town. Probably a car park, although this may be dramatic licence. He went by the delightful name of Surrounded by the Enemy, super ghostly portrayal by Anthony Forrest, and the drama’s main thrust is his desire to have his bones resettled and his spirit released. The young woman he chooses for his haunting task is well selected. Alison is doing a PhD in death rituals around the world and her and her Nan seem obsessed with untimely and early demise. Coming to terms with loss, and Alison lost her mother when she was a baby, is a strong theme throughout the ninety minutes. Both Lorraine Cheshire and Sue Jenkins turned in easy on the ear and completely believable performances. The way Ms Jenkins described the relationship and sudden loss of her young husband, Alison’s granddad, was simple and effective. For good measure the haunted and troubled heroine gets a job with the local undertakers. I told you this play was about death. The dialogue here was particularly sharp and spare and, at times, also funny. Death may be distressing but it is also a business and Darren Kuppan (Charlie) and Roger Morlidge (Stanley) had their feet firmly on the ground. They believed in death, not sure they believed in ghosts, especially when Alison starts digging up the car park.
At the beginning I was totally confused, lots of sound effects and evocative music, but by the end I was totally gripped. When Surrounded by the Enemy’s long buried bones were released into the local river I could see all the pictures and feel all the conflicting emotions. This lost soul, literally, would finally find peace. In death that is all most of us, those taken and those left behind, can hope for. Beautifully directed by Polly Thomas this play was curiously uplifting. We are all going to die. Sitting by the fire, whisky glass in hand, The Lost Salford Sioux made that fact almost pleasurable. Takes Radio Three and its Sunday night dramas to do that.