The Torchbearers by Simon Armitage

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 4 November 2012
Transmitted live from the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, The Torchbearers told the stories of five people and how their lives were affected by the Olympic torch coming through the centre of their town.
At one level, the drama showed how the celebration of the Olympic spirit engendered a variety of reactions, ranging from happiness, to greed, to resentment, to petty rivalries.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the action, and was prepared to go to extreme lengths to obtain it. 
At another level, Simon Armitage's play looked at the symbolic significance of fire - as a way of cleansing people's lives, wiping the slate clean; or functioning as a kind of purgatorial agent, forcing the five characters to confront the truth about their existences; or as a way of bringing back the past as a means of determining the future.
The play was beautifully written: some of the imagery was quite breathtaking in its originality.  And yet I couldn't help thinking somehow detached from the action; I did not feel in any way engaged with the protagonists' lives.  This was neither due to the play itself, nor to the cast (including Kevin Whately, Julie Hesmondhalgh, and Mark Benton), whose performances delighted a rapt audience.  Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Olympics are now history; a fond memory of a unique occasion, just a few months ago, when it really did seem as if the spirit of community could be reborn in contemporary Britain.  The director was Kate Rowland.