How Does That Make You Feel? by Shelagh Stephenson

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How Does That Make You Feel? By Shelagh Stephenson. Dir. Eoin O'Callaghan. Perf. Roger Allam, Tim McInnerny, Frances Tomelty. BBC Radio 4, 23-27 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 26 Apr. 2015.

This series of five short dramas has four clients, Richard Fallon MP (Roger Allam), Tony, Philip (both played by Tim McInnerny) and Caroline (Rebecca Saire) talking about their neuroses to therapist Martha (Frances Tomelty). Fallon suffers from a persecution complex due to his status as a public figure; Tony has come in place of Martha's scheduled client; Caroline has to cope with the trauma of the loss of her husband and her son's decision to become a dress designer; Philip has spent much of his recent life writing novels and screenplays as a means of dealing with familial trauma. All of them reveal their innermost thoughts to Martha, and by doing so reveal their true motives - frequently unwittingly. Throughout the consultations Martha offers a sympathetic ear, even though she might thoroughly dislike her clients in private; but she ends the sessions promptly with the offer of a tissue for those in emotional turmoil.

Some of Shelagh Stephenson's writing is extremely funny as she lays bare her characters' obsessions; despite their attempts to maintain a civilized exterior, they are often sexist, racist or downright cruel towards others. And yet as the five-part drama unfolded, I could not help but feel sorry for them; the experience of therapy is often traumatic, and on many occasions fails to help patients come to terms with their obsessions. Sometimes (as in Martha's case) we wonder whether the therapist is truly sincere in her intentions, or whether she is just putting on an act for the clients' benefit. I understand the need for objectivity, but there is a fine line to be drawn between detachment and disinterest. I got the feeling that Martha was actually looking forward to the end of a consultation, and her offer of a tissue was simply a mechanical reaction to her patients' distress. As the patients left the consulting-room, often in a state (particularly Richard) I wondered whether the therapy actually did them any good at all, or whether it just provided a temporary port in an emotional storm.

Nonetheless, the five dramas were excellently and compellingly directed by Eoin O'Callaghan and performed with utter conviction by the cast.