Lamia by John Keats

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BBC Radio 4, 1 January 2010
Read in stirring tones by Paterson Joseph, Keats' narrative poem "Lamia" tells the story of the fall and fall of Lycius (Tom Ferguson), who falls in love with Lamia (Charlotte Emmerson), but finds himself seduced by her fatal attractions. Obsessed with the idea of enjoying love to the full, he eventually becomes so immersed in it that he cannot recover; for him it becomes some kind of an incurable disease. The narrative poem is a moving testament to Keats' romanticism, dedicated to the enjoyment of pleasure for its own sake, even if it ultimately leads to pain.
Wisely the director Susan Roberts left much of the responsibility for dramatizing the poem to Joseph himself. He proved more than capable of the task; his voice going through rapid changes of key to signal different moods. At times he tried to seem respectable, almost schoolmasterly, commenting on Lucius' foibles; but as the drama unfolded, Joseph became inexorably caught up in the action. His voice assumed a breathless quality as he described Lucius' destruction by the serpent - almost as if he could scarcely endure the thought of describing the action for listeners.
The drama of Keats' poem was enhanced by John Harle's atmospheric music, full of threatening bass chords and abrupt crescendos. This suggested that Lucius' destruction was somehow inevitable once he became involved with Lamia. However the pleasure of the relationship was so intense that he could not extricate himself, even if he had wanted to. His mentor Apollonius (Jonathan Keeble) made valiant efforts to rescue him, but all to no avail.
As the poem ended, Joseph's voice softened to a breathless whisper, suggesting that all the delight Lucius had once experienced had now evaporated. All he had to look forward to now was death. But wasn't the experience fun while it lasted!

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