Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The long and the short of it: drama on R4

Ever since I nearly swerved my car off the road listening to Radio 4's adaptation of Dr Zhivago in the Sunday afternoon Classic Serial slot (is vivid infanticide really tea-time programming?), I have been semi-glued to their choices. What I appreciated most about Dr Zhivago is what I like about The Archers: plenty of space is given to the story to develop.

This seems not to have been the case of late, to the detriment of the adaptations. I enjoyed Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy over the past fortnight, with Jonathan Slinger as the narrator, posh yet wounded and soulful, but it seemed like an awful lot was crammed into two hours. Indeed, the last ten minutes featured a chase, shooting, kidnapping on a ship, escape from said ship, a burial and a happily ever after (not to be too specific).

Or take that well-known short story, Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. This came in four episodes, which means the adaptor put three of Powell's books into each hour of airtime. I have not read the sequence, but I am certain they are not this thinly populated.

While I can well understand that contractions must be made to keep up the pace, allow more productions and avoid over-complications, I am not certain that every book is well served by being filleted. I know that the radio is not a book, with its infinite opportunities for digression and expansion, but if you can guarantee one thing about Radio 4's listeners, it is that they are patient, patient people. There is no danger of losing your audience by constructing a more detailed, more eventful, slower-paced drama.

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