The Sod by Vashti MacLachlan

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The Sod by Vashti MacLachlan. Dir. Nadia Molinari. Perf. Liz White, Nick J. Field, Jonathan Keeble. BBC Radio 4, 10 June 2015. BBCiPlayer

The term "sod" has an ambiguous connotation. Most obviously it is a pejorative term used to describe someone obdurate, acting according to their own will without consideration for others. Yet it can also be used in gardening or horticulture, to refer to the surface of the ground; as well as referring to death (as in "under the sod."

Vashti MacLachlan's play encompasses all three meanings. Sarah (Liz White) and Tom (Nick J. Field) have taken on an allotment, and spend much of their time cultivating vegetables. Sarah in particular takes pleasure in the freshness of her produce, using onomatopoeic language to communicate her feelings. We are made aware of her proximity to nature; she feels some kind of connection, both emotional and spiritual, to the sod.

At the same time Tom becomes increasingly aware of his own mortality. He suffers from MS, and despite all attempts to cure him, or at least involve him in some pioneering medical tests, nothing can prevent his gradual degeneration. As a professional actor, he continues to attend auditions, but nothing ever comes out of them; he believes this is due to his disease, which will render him less and less mobile in the future. In the end, he believes, he will become a catatonic vegetable, suitable for nothing more than burial "under the sod."

With this knowledge, it's hardly surprising that he should behave like a sod on several occasions, most notably during harvest-time, where he ruins Sarah's big day with a self-pitying rant that embarrasses everyone, not just Sarah but fellow-allotment growers such as Graham (Jonathan Keeble).

Nadia Molinari's production makes ingenious use of sound-effects to denote human beings' closeness to nature. On several occasions we hear the sound of people swimming (or even drowning); this not only refers to Tom's exercises, designed to keep what muscles he still possesses in working order, but sums up the young couple's state of mind. Sometimes it seems that they are drowning in misfortune, so much so that Tom wishes he could drown himself and thereby embrace oblivion.

The play is narrated by Sarah, who frequently describes her actions in the third person, almost as if she were trying to detach herself from the uncomfortable realities of daily life. In the end, however, she understands the futility of this task and commits herself to looking after her spouse at whatever personal cost to herself.

Based on personal experience, "Sod" is a complex yet rewarding piece making extensive use of radio's capacity to create alternative worlds of the imagination.