Listening to the Dead by Katie Hims

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Listening to the Dead on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 30-31 December 2013, 2-3 January 2014
Four interlinked plays, each exploring the theme of clairvoyance.  Although set in different historical periods, including the Victorian era, the First World War, and the Fifties, each play revealed the arbitrariness of time: for someone blessed with an ability to foretell what might happen, distinctions between past, present and future no longer hold any real meaning.  One might think that clairvoyants might revel in the powers invested in them; Jessica Dromgoole's productions demonstrated precisely the opposite.  If the future has already been mapped out, then human beings have little or no capacity for self-determination.  They are simply going through the motions of living in a predestined world.
I personally enjoyed the second play in the series - Four Sons - the most.  This is not to denigrate the quality of writing of the other three plays - Hims has a good ear for dialogue, as well as being able to construct her work in a slick, fast-moving manner.  However Four Sons seemed more directly relevant to the present time, given that the First World War broke out precisely a century ago.  There was a frightening sense of inevitability in baker's wife Clara Tully's (Michelle Terry's) feeling that three of her four sons would never return from the battlefields of France, despite their protestations to the contrary.  Even though Joe, her fourth son (Will Howard) did come back - and made something of a recovery, thanks to his mother's powers - Clara's feelings of happiness seemed somewhat hollow.  She wanted to divest herself of her powers: while that might lead to periods of bad luck, but she could also possess the freedom to enjoy herself even in the midst of adversity.
With Ann Metcalf acting as a childlike narrator, this production proved a memorable reminder of the horrors of war, both abroad and - more significantly - in Britain.