BBC Radio 3, 30 March 2014
Set in contemporary Spain, The
Boy at the Back focused on Claudio (Will Howard) a 17-year-old with literary ambitions. His teacher German (Neil
Pearson) advised him with continual comments, as well as providing him with classical texts in order to increase his
vocabulary as well as developing his style.
The only snag was that Claudio chose to write about his friend Rafa's (Max Bowden's) life
in intimate detail. He insinuated himself into Rafa's house, befriended Rafa's father (David Birrell), and developed
a close relationship with the mother Ester (Juliet Aubrey), culminating in his writing a poem in praise of her life.
Claudio's voyeurism eventually spun out of control, affecting German's as well as Rafa's family.
Nicolas Jackson's production explored the
complex relationship between word and action: should writing try to recreate what is happening in the
world around us, or is it merely a figurative act? In Claudio's view, the writing of a daily journal had to record
- often in exhaustive detail - his daily experiences, his responses to Rafa's family, and his future aspirations. On
the other hand German was much more preoccupied with questions of style; by drawing on previous examples of great literature,
he believed that Claudio could develop a more effective style, free of imitation and/or parody. However German
seemed blissfully unaware of the play's major irony; while attempting to advise Claudio on matters of literary style,
he seemed oblivious to the fact that his wife Juara (Haydn Gwynne) was engaged in precisely the same creative process as Claudio,
as she dealt in paintings and the writing of art catalogues. Through this strategy Jackson's production emphasized
the myopic nature of much literary criticism in its preoccupation with issues of style.
As the action unfolded, so the drama grew
more sinister. German was forced to account for his actions; Rafa grew increasingly more suspicious of Claudio's motives;
while Juana had to face Claudio in an uncomfortable climactic scene. Perhaps literature is nothing more than a series
of words, bearing little relationship to the contexts in which it is consumed. At least, this is what happens when it
is taught too rigorously.