Drama on BBC Radio 4 Extra
BBC Radio 4 Extra, 3 July 2012
Another installment in Radio 4 Extra's celebration of Stoppard's seventy-fifth
birthday. These two plays from the Thirty-Minute Theatre series revealed his proccupation with language as an instrument
of obfuscation rather than communication.
First broadcast in 1966, If You're Glad I'll Be Frank portrayed a world
governed by time: everyone tried to save that extra minute here and there in order to devote it to something else. The sheer
monotony of such a life was suggested through a deliberate refrain of the old speaking clock "At the third stroke, it will
be nine-fifteen and ten seconds" prefaced by the three pips. This is repeated over and over again every ten seconds, twenty-four
hours a day, seven days a week; the protagonists' lives were equally monotonous. Bus driver Frank (Timothy West) tried his
best to make use of brief breaks within his tight schedule to see his wife Glad (Patsy Rowlands), but no one would allow him,
for fear of disrupting the schedule of Post Office life. Glad spent her life as the speaking clock; although rebelling briefly
and letting her true feelings emerge, she was a prisoner of her existence. No one, it seemed, could either escape or wanted
to escape. The director was John Tydeman.
Where are They Now?, first broadcast seven years later, took a long hard
look at an old boys' reunion. Every summer I receive invitations from my school, inviting me to reunions with my contemporaries;
I have to admit that I have refused every one of them, as I have no inclination to revisit the past and recall the days when
I was "a young scallywag," so to speak, indulging in high jinks in class. The guests in Where are They Now? took
a positive pleasure in recalling their collective youth, even though some of their contemporaries had passed away, and they
weren't even sure whether they had all been to the same school! John Tydeman's production had great fun exposing many of these
reminiscenes as false, based on a nostalgic desire to recall one's lost youth. For most of the old boys, the past was more
attractive than the present. The play ended with an ironic twist, that exposed all the camaraderie of the reunion as a sham.
The cast, once led again led by Timothy West, supported by the great Carleton Hobbs (whose voice should be instantly recognizable
to listeners of a certaib generation0, thoroughly enjoyed themselves.