The Henry Experiment by Sophie Radice, adapted by Charlotte Jones

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The Henry Experiment by Sophie Radice, adapted by Charlotte Jones. Dir. Liz Webb. Perf. Emma Fielding, Matthew Marsh. BBC Radio 4, 23-27 February 2015. BBCiPlayer to 29 Mar. 2015.

With little else to occupy her life after her grown-up children have moved away, Anna (Emma Fielding) comes across a little boy Henry (Finn Monteath) walking barefoot across Hampstead Heath. Concerned for his welfare, she takes him home, offering him a piggy-back along the way. When she meets Henry's father, the noted behaviorist Professor Horace Henderson (Matthew Marsh), she is in for a shock; far from being grateful for her concern, Henderson tells her to mind her own business. Anna cannot accept this reaction and wishes to find out more; this decision will lead her into conflict not only with Henderson, but with members of her own family as well.

Liz Webb's production explores the complexities of human behavior, focusing on the issue of when one person's concern for another can be termed harassment. Anna obviously feels for the child (who seems to be leading a miserable existence), but what right has she to interfere in his upbringing? Matters are made more complicated for her when she discovers that her mother (Elaine Claxton) has befriended the professor, and tends to sympathize with him rather than supporting her daughter.

This "15-Minute Drama" is narrated by Anna herself, looking back on her past actions with a mixture of self-justification and regret. It's clear that she believes that she has been an effective parent, even though we're led to believe that her son Jason (Paul Heath) has embarked on a round-the-world tour as a means of escaping from her. Her daughter Natasha (Roslyn Hill) (whom we encounter in part three of this five-part series) has also had issues with her mother in the past. In light of such knowledge, we are perhaps inclined to sympathize with the professor when he accuses of Anna of displacing her parental inadequacies on to him.

The ending is perhaps a little sentimental, involving a change of character which seems slightly implausible, but nonetheless "The Henry Experiment" remains a powerful analysis of two extremes of parenting - over-protectiveness and the laissez-faire approach - and their effect on family lives.