Burn the Aeneid! By Martyn Wade
(1993). Dir. Cherry Cookson. Perf.
Clive Merrison, James Grout, Norman
BBC Radio 4 Extra, 21 January 2015.
to 20 Feb. 2015.
Plucked from the Radio 4 archives at a time when Afternoon Drama was known as Afternoon Theatre, and lasted sixty
rather than forty-five minutes, Burn the
Aeneid! is a farcical comedy focusing on the row arising from Virgil’s
decision to have his magnum opus destroyed after his death.
Tonally speaking, the play has strong echoes of the
early Fifties film Laughter in Paradise,
where several people from different socio-economic background squabble over a
will left by one of their rich relatives.
Remade two decades later as Some
Will, Some Won’t, the script energetically satirizes people’s greed, that prevents
them seeing what is actually happening around them.
Likewise in Martyn Wade’s comedy it seemed that the
squabbles between the so-called “courtly” Romans (played by Merrison, Grout and
Rodway) were not really focused on the manuscript of the Aeneid at all, but focused
rather on a struggle for prominence: who
would actually take charge of the manuscript?
In truth the outcome did not really matter (Virgil’s place in history
was already secure), but it consumed most of their attention.
The plot zipped along at a great lick, with the dialogue
often being delivered so rapidly that it seemed that the characters were being
transformed into audible marionettes.
There were several plot-diversions involving a dog (called Homer) and
some lower-class characters; these strategies served to emphasize the
absurdities of the protagonists’ struggles.
Eventually nothing was really resolved, except the fact that the
manuscript no longer seemed as significant as it did at the beginning of the
Burn the Aeneid! offered an
interesting comparison to Simon Armitage’s The
Last Days of Troy (recently broadcast in the Classic Serial slot on Radio
4), demonstrating once and for all how classic texts can be reshaped to suit
any purpose, for all types of drama.