BBC Radio 4, 5 March 2009
Iain Banks's fantasy posed the question of what it would be like for
an alien to live like a human being, and subject to all the attendant frailties - weakness, emotional upheaval and death.
The alien concerned with Dewley Linter (Paterson Joseph), who quit his comfortable existence in space and embraced Christianity
instead, much to the consternation of his colleague Diziet Sma (Nina Sosanya). Both were subject to the control of Ship (Antony
Sher) - an impersonal, godlike figure knowing everything about the universe and its logic yet keeping himself aloof from it.
By choosing human life Linter at last evaded Ship's authority, but he also became mortal. The production ended with him
falling victim to a mugging and eventually dying of his injuries; Ship refused to do anything to help him.
The State of the Art can be seen as an allegory of despotism, where the
citizens of a state are encouraged to behave in a certain fashion in return for total protection. Written in the late
1970s, the novel might well be seen as a thinly-veiled portrait of Soviet Russia, where the Politburo promised everything
yet tries its best to prevent the people from thinking too much. Antony Sher was a powerful if sinister Ship, whose measured,
calm tone of voice concealed a fundamentally brutal nature. No one dared to cross him for fear of reprisal.
This Afternoon Play had a certain inevitability about it; from the beginning
we knew precisely what would happen to Linter, despite his assertions of freedom. However it made some telling points
about the importance of being true to oneself, even if the struggle to challenge authority might be a futile one. The director
was Nadia Molinari.