Man by Jackie Carreira

Contact Us

Mari by Jackie Carreira. Dir. Simon Morecroft. Perf. Zoe Cunningham, Hereward Mills, Matthew Makaveli. Shoreditch Radio, 16, 18 January 2015. Listen live on

One of the delights of reviewing radio drama is the opportunity to listen to a wide range of material - not just from the BBC, but from other organizations as well.

Shoreditch Radio, a community station based in East London, made their radio drama debut with this entertaining four-hander. Mari (Zoe Cunningham) works in a local library; she enjoys the experience of being surrounded by books, even though her boss Derek (Hereward Mills) did not seem to value her contribution. Try as he might, he keeps getting her name wrong, by calling her "Mary"; rather than "Mari"; Nonetheless, Mari sustains her spirits up by describing her experiences to the listeners, treating them as her unseen confidantes. We know a lot more about her than any of her nearest and dearest.

Jackie Carrreira's play recalls earlier works focusing on the lives of ordinary people with few opportunities to express themselves: Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine being an example. Like the eponymous heroine of the earlier play, Mari has to cope with the imprisonment of marriage to a husband (Ron) who neither values her or a person nor lets her pursue her own interests. He expects her to go to bingo rather than visit the local public library; and if she should be lucky to hit the jackpot, he will take all her winnings. Nonetheless, Mari appears to have carved out a space for herself, defined mostly by the experiences of listening to audiobooks as well as buying books for herself.

As the drama unfolds, however, so we discover more about Mari's life and the handicaps she has to endure; not just an uncaring husband, but personal difficulties as well. Although trying her best to overcome them, she often ends up suffering, both personally as well as physically. Tired of her life so far, she makes a life-changing decision: we have no knowledge as to whether it will succeed or not, but we admire her for doing so.

Through a series of interior monologues, Mari reveals her love of books; they not only offer her a window into alternative modes of existence, but they provide a space that no man, neither Derek nor Ron, can touch. This is not only a refuge, but a source of power for her; for her husband, the mere mention of books represents a threat to marital stability, as well as to his masculine consciousness. Having been accustomed to dominating his spouse, he suddenly realizes that books might help her cultivate a mind of her own. Director Simon Morecroft makes an important point here about the power of words to change people's lives; the experience of listening to Mari might encourage a similar process of revaluation amongst listeners.

Yet perhaps books can only offer a partial solution to life's problems. Human beings have to utilize such experiences for themselves in redefining their lives. Mari suggests that books can only offer a pointer towards new experiences; how individuals deal with such experiences is very much up to them.

As Mari, Zoe Cunningham used a confidential tone while describing her life, designed to encourage a close relationship with listeners. Even her unhappy experiences were recounted in such a way as not to disturb that relationship; keeping the listeners on her side was obviously important to her. Her honey-voiced tones contrasted with the more stand-offish attitude of Mills's Derek; although he spent his life among books, they clearly had little or no significance for him.

While Mari was an undoubtedly engaging piece, it offered some important lessons for all of us about the enduring power of literature as well as its limitations. I do hope Shoreditch Radio essays some more plays; if future works are as good as this one, then listeners will be in for a treat.