The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo, dramatized by Jonathan Holloway

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 23 May 2013
Nominated Book of the Decade in 2010 by The Times, The Emperor's Babe focuses on Zuleika (Michelle Assante), living in Londinium in 206-211 AD.  The daughter of African parents, she has been a free spirit until her betrothal to a man more than three times her age.  Suddenly pitchforked into the higher echelons of society, she has a difficult time until she embarks on a passionate affair with Emperor Septimus Severus (Terence Anderson).  What keeps her sane is her close relationship with Alba (Alex Tregear).
Although set in the past, using actual historical material as a framework (Septimus Severus did rule Britain, and wanted to conquer Scotland until he died in 211 AD), The Emperor's Babe draws direct parallels between past and present to comment on issues of race, colonialism, gender and emancipation.  Despite the process of historical change, these issues remain as significant today as they did in ancient times.
Bernardine Evaristo's text could have been made for radio.  Written in free verse, it combines different idioms - classical allusions, contemporary colloquialisms, slang and Latinate phrases. It is an exceptionally playful style of writing, making light of what might have been heavy material.  The beauty of her writing is especially apparent in the aural medium, where we listen intently to what the characters say, noting as we do so the brilliant use of alliteration, assonance and different rhythms.  Jonathan Holloway's adaptation retains that beauty, while streamlining the story into a forty-three-minute dramatic form.
The Emperor's Babe is a wonderful piece, highly recommended for anyone with a taste for language.