The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri, dramatized by Stephen Wyatt

Contact Us

Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 30 March 2014
Marc Beeby's and Emma Harding's vivid recreation of Dante the Poet's (Blake Ritson's) journey into the hellish depths had him accompanied by Virgil (David Warner), indicating the timelessness of the trip.  Virgil might have been long-dead, but in the underworld the distinction between life and death no longer prevailed.  Virgil's presence in the drama underlined its epic nature: Dante was embarking on something already narrated in The Aeneid
In structural terms, Beeby and Harding had the older Dante (John Hurt) commenting on his younger self, as he experienced the various terrors of the Inferno.  This not only showed how Dante learned from his experiences, but suggested that suffering might only be temporary.  So long as the poet sustained his basic virtue, and did not succumb to the temptations of the flesh, or of money, or of power, then his future should be secure.
Although the story was resolutely set in the fourteenth century, Beeby and Harding underlined its universal nature.  Some of the dialogue was spoken in the original Italian, providing a series of preludes to the various episodes.  It did not matter which language was used: Dante's experiences would be the same everywhere.  More significantly, Stephen Wyatt's adaptation made it abundantly clear that the Inferno still exists today, peopled by damned souls who have spent their time exploiting others, spending money fruitlessly, or living in a dog-eat-dog world.  At this point it was hard not to read the production as a pointed criticism of unrestrained capitalism in the modern world.
Some of the sonic effects - part of Caleb Knightley's overall design - were truly blood-curdling - especially the moment when the inhabitants of the Inferno started to eat one another.  Like Dante, we were glad when we could escape from such a place, even though remaining well aware of how easily we could fall back into it.