The Leipzig Affair by Fiona Rintoul, abridged by Jeremy Osborne

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The Leipzig Affair by Fiona Rintoul, abridged by Jeremy Osborne. Prod. Rosalynd Ward. Perf. Douglas Henshall, Indira Varma. BBC Radio 4, 16-27 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 26 Apr. 2015

Set in the former East Germany in the mid-Eighties, "The Leipzig Affair" is superficially a love-story involving Bob McPherson, a PhD student at the local university who falls in love with Magda Reinsch, a fellow-student with ambitions to escape to the west. What he does not know, however, is that Magda is using him as a means to secure liberation for herself and her boyfriend.

Rosalynd Ward's production is constructed as a symphony for two voices - the mature Bob, speaking in the present (Douglas Henshall) and Magda (Indira Verma) recounting her version of the tale in the third person. Now unemployed, having lost his highly-paid job in the City, Bob looks back on his involvement in the communist era with a combination of ruefulness and nostalgia; his so-called love affair not only exposed his naïvété, but also showed how powerless he was in the face of forces (notably the German secret police, the Stasi) beyond his control. The affair led to him harboring a fear of failure, which he could only assuage through alcohol.

Magda seems equally affected by the events. Unable to contemplate the prospect of recounting them autobiographically, she puts a distance between her present and past selves through the use of the third person, almost as if she were looking at her past self as a subject for scientific experiment. Although more aware of the intrigues dominating East German society, she is as powerless as Bob to impose control over them; as the story unfolds, we find out that she becomes a pawn in a much more sophisticated game orchestrated by her boyfriend.

In the end we are left with the feeling that despite their feelings for one another (which actually survive, in spite of what happens to them) Bob and Magda are two of a kind, small fish lost in a very big whirlpool.