The African Queen by C. S. Forester, adapted by Paul Mendelson

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The African Queen by C. S. Forester, adapted by Paul Mendelson. Dir. David Ian Neville. Perf. Toby Jones, Samantha Bond. BBC Radio 4, 21 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 23 Mar. 2015.

With memories of the immortal John Huston version still fresh in the mind (for those of a certain generation, at least), David Ian Neville's production had something of an artistic mountain to climb. The fact that it succeeded is a tribute to the excellent script, two memorable performances, and a soundscape that vividly conjured up the hazards of driving an old downriver at the height of World War I.

The production adopted an interesting conceit of having Rose (Samantha Bond) re-telling the story to an unspecified interlocutor, who turned out to be C. S. Forester. This gave the story a sense of immediacy, of first-hand experiences recounted breathlessly, almost as if Rose felt the need to tell them as soon as possible.

Wisely adapter Mandelson had decided to follow the source-text and make Charlie Allnut (Toby Jones) a Cockney, full of chirpy charm and a tendency to swear at any and every opportunity. He was the absolute antithesis of the strait-laced Rose, a missionary trying to adjust to the unexpected loss of her brother Samuel (Stephen Critchlow). Initially it seemed as if the two protagonists would never endure one another, but as the voyage unfolded, so they grew closer to one another, even though Allnut drowned his sorrows in gin and Rose found solace in endless cups of tea. The production's impetus stemmed from the contrast between the two: Allbut's down-to-earth pragmatism set against Rose's na´ve idealism. Sometimes Rose's view prevailed with spectacular results.

As Rose spent more time with Allnut, so her mental conversations with the deceased Samuel continued. She felt that she was losing more and more of her formality; much to her brother's chagrin. Yet she believed that it was somehow right: Allnut had unwittingly introduced her to a world of color and incident, one that she had never previously experienced. By the end of the production, she had changed completely.

The sonic landscape gave us a vivid sense of the dangers inherent in the trip; the perpetual ripple of water set against the whistle of bullets just missing the protagonists' heads, and the boom of successive explosions as the German boats tried to destroy "The African Queen." Director Neville made it clear that this was as much an adventure as a love-story.

The production re-introduced the book's ending, where Allnut was captured and re-encountered Rose, while being interrogated by a German officer (David Acton). While the plot ended happily, we did get the sense that the two protagonists would always be faced wth some kind of danger.