The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard, adapted by Katie Hims. Dir. Sacha Yevtushenko. Perf. Adam Gillen, Luke Norris, Nathan Osgood.
BBC Radio 4, 3-24 March 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05410x3 to 23 Apr. 2015
Elmore Leonard's 2005 novel is ripe for radio adaptation. Set in the Depression era in Oklahoma and Kansas, it is a fast-moving
quest narrative centering on a tussle for supremacy between US Marshal Carl Webster (Luke Norris) and Jack Belmont (Adam Gillen),
a small-time crook aspiring to be Public Enemy No.1, with a reputation as notorious as that of Dillinger. Also in the mix
is Belmont's moll Louly Brown (Samantha Dakin), who aids and abets Jack depending on the circumstances.
Sacha Yevtushenko's production did not disappoint. Using archival music to set the scene, The Hot Kid moved swiftly from
place to place, creating a cutthroat world with a very simple morality: if I miss, you hit. Life was cheap at that time:
poverty drove people into desperate measures, and opportunists like Belmont flourished. Being quick on the draw with a six-shooter
had distinct advantages. The only quibble I had with this excellent adaptation was that some of the American accents sounded
distinctly false; there is nothing more grating on the ear than listening to British actors impersonating their transatlantic
cousins with little feeling for the vocal nuances of a dialect. Frequently the Brits object when Americans take on British
roles (for example, Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones); perhaps we should express similar criticisms when the positions are
Katie Hims's adaptation acquired another level of meaning through the presence of Tony Antonelli (Nathan Osgood) and Louly
as narrators. A would-be writer of pulp fiction, Antonelli was determined to retell Webster's and Belmont's struggle in popular
language, full of clichés and lurid metaphors. The only problem was that the narrative remained stubbornly resistant to such
strategies. In Antonelli's narrative vision psychology did not matter; action was everything. By contrasting Antonelli's
narrative with that of Louly – who recounted the tale from a highly personal point of view, Hims helped listeners
to understand how narrators could only give a partial representation of what was happening. If we really wanted to understand
the story, and the motivations of the characters within it, we had to evaluate all the narratives on their own terms, and
make a judgement for ourselves. Not only did we have to pay attention to the plot, but we also had to understand the ways
in which it was recounted by different narrators. This required considerable attention on our part.
"The Hot Kid" told a familiar tale, highly reminiscent of other Depression-era gangster narratives such as "Bonnie
and Clyde," but Hims's subtle adaptation rendered it a memorable aural experience, one that told us a lot about the ways
in which people at that time viewed their roles in a fast-changing society.