Philip and Sydney by Alan Pollock

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Philip and Sydney by Alan Pollock (2010). Dir. Kirsty Williams. Perf. Pip Carter, Tim McInnerny. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 12 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 13 Feb. 2015.

One of Philip Larkin's more memorable quotations comes from the opening of "This Be the Verse," describing what parents can do to their children: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you."

This dictum aptly describes Alan Pollock's piece that builds on a real-life visit Larkin and his father made to Germany in 1937. Larkin himself refused to discuss the occasion in any of his published work, so the play represents something of a speculative piece.

Sydney Larkin (Tim McInnerny) is a hearty soul, the City Treasurer of Coventry, who relishes the chance to visit various parts of Germany. His son (Pip Carter) assumes the kind of disinterested pose characteristic of the adult Philip Larkin. Although following his father in his travels, he does not appear especially interested, until he meets a young woman with a shared enthusiasm for jazz.

The plot of Philip and Sydney is a familiar one, strongly reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (1989), with Sydney the unwitting dupe of the Nazi propaganda campaign. He believes that Germany has made a remarkable recovery since the dark days of the Depression; other countries should follow its example. Blissfully unaware of the terror taking place around him, he admits to a belief in dictatorships as an effective mode of government. It is only when he and his son run in trouble with a local bureaucrat (Gunnar Cauthery) that he understands the consequence of his misperception.

Philip remains detached throughout: although aware of his father's lack of self-awareness, he seems either unable or unwilling to intervene. It is only when his personal relationships are called into question that he begins to understand what has happened.

While the material might be predictable, Kirsty Williams's production refused to make any real moral judgment. Sidney might have been deluded, but he was not essentially a bad man. He introduced his son to the classics of English Literature, while encouraging him to develop his critical faculties. Like many people in the Thirties, Sydney simply fell victim to a highly effective propaganda campaign conducted by the Nazis.