Arabian Afternoons: The Writer and the Three Ladies by Rachel Joyce

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BBC Radio 4, 30 March 2010

The second in the Arabian Afternoons series told the story of Joe (Stephen Tompkinson), a would-be investigative journalist in thrall, both professionally and emotionally, to his boss Margo (Joanna Munro). To ensure his continued survival as an employee, she sends him to Damascus in search of a story. There he meets three exotic would-be princesses Mira (Indira Varma), Affyah (Jasmine Jones) and Juliba (Melissa Advani) , who offer him ‘a good time’ while instating on their noble birth. In truth this is nothing more than a convenient lie, cooked up by the Syrian ladies in the hope of attracting rich western punters. They are little more than common women eking out an existence in the only way they know. Joe’s liberal sympathies are aroused, and he resolves to tell their stories to his British readers. However Margo does not see it that way; always in pursuit of a sensational tale, she prefers the corrupted innocence angle, of exotic women persuading innocent travelers to leave the straight and narrow. So far so orientalist; both Joe and Msrgot view the women through their westernized prisms of expectation.


But Tracey Neale’s production refused to confirm such complacencies; as the action unfolded, we discovered that Tom’s experiences forced him to confront the truth of his life; that he grew up in a violent household where his father continually beat his mother, while Joe himself could only look on helplessly. It was only when Joe had grown up and realized how his father’s violence was provoked as much by insecurity as by the desire to dominate, that he was prepared to forgive his father on his death-bed. The experience of going to Syria became a cathartic one; no longer interested in the story, Joe acquired the kind of self-knowledge which gave him the confidence to reject Margo and start a new life of his own. The story seemed to affect King Shahrayar (Kavork Malikyan) as well, as he put off the execution of Shahrazad (Sirine Saba), in the hope of hearing another story before dawn.