How to Say Goodbye Properly by E. V. Crowe

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How to Say Goodbye Properly by E. V. Crowe (2014). Dir. Abigail le Fleming. Perf. Ellie Kendrick, Hermione Norris, Stuart McQuarrie. BBC Radio 4, 3 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 2 Apr. 2015.

Winner of the 2015 Imison Award for Best Debut Audio Drama, "How to Say Goodbye Properly" is narrated by fourteen-year-old Lucy (Ellie Kendrick), who tries to pursue what she believes is a normal life for a teenager; meeting boys, gossiping with her friends and arguing with her mother Angela (Hermione Norris). The only snag is that she belongs to an army family, and her father Martin (Stuart McQuarrie) keeps getting posted to various camps and/or parts of the world. As a result they lead a peripatetic existence; no sooner has Lucy settled at one of her new schools, then she has to move off once more, attend a new school, and try to make friends.

It is a lonely life for her, one which gives her few sources of stability to hold on to. As a result Lucy retreats into a fantasy world, dominated by the bellicose rhetoric of the armed services. Domestic incidents are elevated into major conflicts, where split-second decisions are vital. The only snag with this strategy is that brutal reality keeps breaking through: Lucy notes with despair her mother's tendency to accept everything that Martin wants, even though life in an army camp is both monotonous and constricting, with everyone (even civilians? being forced to present their credentials at a security check-point before being allowed through.

E. V. Crowe's play vividly captures the ways in which army families are forced into a hand-to-mouth existence, especially when Martin seems unwilling (or unable) to give up his life, despite repeated promises that the next posting will be his last. Lucy not only has to endure her father's indecision and her mother's passivity, but she never knows whether her father will ever come back in one piece. The reality of this situation is vividly revealed to her when she meets fellow-adolescent Toby (Alex Lawther). In the end Lucy and Angela achieve some sort of stability (perhaps for the first time) in their lives, but we never know (or whether) it will last.

The author has a unique capacity for getting inside the protagonist's consciousness; that blend of insecurity, presumed confidence and self-assertion that characterizes the teenage mind. "How to Say Goodbye Properly" is an uncompromising piece, but compelling nonetheless.