I have always been a big fan of the radio, right back to those days in our house when we called it the wireless. It’s the only reason I don’t rage against the BBC licence fee. I could live without television if I had to, much as I would miss the horseracing and weather forecast, but not the blessed radio. I have seven in my house. Only the lavatory escapes and I am working on that. And as I have aged, ears coping better than eyes, it becomes even more important. Being a theatre buff I avidly search for drama. We don’t get as much as we used to, apart from Shakespeare and the odd classic, and little these days that is relevant to the stage. The oiks who control output, much like their TV equivalent, see little need for a regurgitation of old Rattigans, Priestleys, and Ibsens. They used to, years ago, even throwing in an Ayckbourn, a Pinter, or an Arthur Miller. Search now and, generally, you search in vain. Most drama these days on the wireless, the radio, tends to be Radio 4’s afternoon slot, plays commissioned and especially written for the medium. Not for the stage. It saddens but it is better than nothing and, occasionally, just occasionally one turns up which grips you in a vice like hold that does not let go. You stop everything, cease those other activities, and avidly listen. When over, exhausted, you say ‘that was good, no, more than that, it was bloody brilliant.’ And you also recognise, reluctantly and grudgingly, it could only have been done on the radio. The wireless. Not the stage. My One and Only was one such play.
Written by Dawn King it concerns a complex triangular relationship in which the main character, a highly emotional Layla expertly played by Katherine Parkinson, is desperately seeking to continue an affair with self centred medic Ben whilst simultaneously trying to extract herself from one she never intended, the freaky and spooky Noah. What makes this little drama special, menace unnervingly ratcheting up with every prosaic ring of a variety of telephone noises, is that all conversations take place courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell’s little invention. Characters never, except in one nerve racking scene, meet. All angst, emotion, anger, fear, is conducted down telephone wires. On landlines, on mobiles, in home and office. Layla is unnervingly stalked by one night stand Noah and, obliquely, she in desperation and despair seemingly stalks Ben. A man she still desires. And in her desperation she ups the ante and gets Noah to stalk Ben’s wife. Her own sister. I tell you, it had my head reeling. Never did the ring of a phone contain so much venomous poison; never did a familiar homely object ooze such threats. Whatever I was doing, it went on hold for forty five heady minutes.
Director Jessica Dromgoole did a super job with all those special effects of the everyday and in Katherine Parkinson, Carl Prekopp (Noah), Simon Bubb (Ben), and Victoria Inez Hardy (Amy) she had actors’ voices which both complemented and enhanced this dramatic piece. Carl Prekopp was particularly compelling as the overtly nice Noah, gentleness laced with stalker’s menace, and the phone call between Layla and Amy was dramatic writing at its radio best. The despairing Layla could at that moment, I ungraciously thought, strangle both Ben’s cooing wife and the unseen baby being thrust down the phone as token of both fidelity and love. No wonder she put Noah onto her. My One and Only, beautifully written and directed, beautifully acted, unnervingly realistic, was radio theatre at its best. Out of the blue on a midweek afternoon. More like this and I will put an eighth radio, or wireless, in the lavatory. Roy Hall
Broadcast 2-15pm Radio 4 Monday 13th October 2014 – available until 12th November (30 days or thereabouts) on BBCiplayer