The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, adapted by Simon Armitage

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 29 December 2013
The Old Man and the Sea has been memorably filmed in 1958 (with Spencer Tracy) and in 1990 (with Anthony Quinn).  Both adaptations are memorable for the way in which they photograph Santiago's struggle to catch a fish, and subsequently survive, even though attacked by sharks and having to negotiate almost impossible weather conditions.
In many ways Pauline Harris' radio version worked even better, as the focus was placed not so much on Santiago's (David Schofield's) physical struggle, but on his mental processes as he contended with the "fretful elements."  Time and again we thought he might give in, as he failed to draw the fish in, and had to repel numerous attacks from the sharks; but it seemed that the experiences gave him an inner strength to survive.  Although he fell asleep at the end of the story, his mind was left unimpaired; we knew that he would probably be out there once again as soon as he felt up to it, continuing a centuries-old fishing practice that he refused to let go.
Structurally speaking, Harris' production had two narrators: the older Manolin (Joseph Balederrama) who told the story as well as recalling the exploits of his younger self (Damson Idris) as he interacted with the old man; and Santiago, who recounted his experiences as they were happening.  This strategy meant that the action kept shifting from past to present and back again, with Santiago and the younger Manolin inhabiting the past, while the older Manolin commented on their exploits in the present.  We understood something of the timelessness of Hemingway's tale; the universality of one man pitting himself against the forces of nature and emerging triumphant through sheer effort of will.
While Simon Armitage's dialogue was written in prose, it possessed an incantatory rhythm that compelled us to listen.  Following the example of most classic fairy-tales, he demonstrated the inseparability of irrational fears from rational ones - especially for those having to survive against apparently impossible odds.