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The Need for Nonsense by Julia Blackburn

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BBC Radio 4, 9 February 2009
 
Edward Lear (Andrew Sachs) was something of a celebrity in his day. Renowned for his nonsense verse, his work was admired by politicians, military people - even royalty - all of whom treated it as an emotional safety-valve, a relief from the stresses and strains of daily conversation.
 
However Lear himself was a far from happy man. As portrayed by Sachs, he suffered from manic depression, fits of epilepsy and bouts of melancholy. Partly these diseases might have been psychosomatic, but there's little doubt that Lear's health was delicate, to say the least. Moreover he suffered from rootlessness, travelling about various parts of the Mediterranean in search of the kind of security - whether mental or physical - he could always identify in others but never discover for himself.
 
On most of his travels he was accompanied by his faithful Greek servant Giorgio (Alexi Kaye Campbell), whose role varied from that of father-confessor, emotional punchbag or nursemaid, depending his master's state of mind. Julia Blackburn's Afternoon Play suggested that the two were inseparable: Lear could not function without Giorgio to clean up after him, while Giorgio himself understood that his life lacked meaning without the daily (even hourly) stresses of looking after the errant poet. The two enjoyed a Don Quixote/ Sancho Panza-like relationship as Lear embarked on a perpetual quest for security.
 
The Need for Nonsense portrayed Lear as a romantic in the classical sense of the term as someone gaining inspiration through continued association with a child - in this case, Hubert Congreve (Ross Mackendrick). There was nothing improper about their relationship; rather Lear understood that the associative mind of a child could forge the kind of connections between disparate forms of language, which helped him create his celebrated verse. We learned something about how the mind of a poet works; she or he does not sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper, but requires regular stimulation - whether physical or mental - to produce their work.
 
Ultimately Blackburn's play communicated an affectionate view of Edward Lear, Giorgio and Hubert as emotional misfits who found security in one another's company. The director was May Ward Lowery.