Theremin by Melissa Murray

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BBC Radio 4, 9 October 2010
The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (a name he later anglicized to Leon Theremin). Unlike any other instrument, it can be played without being touched; two antennas protrude from the theremin, one controlling sound, the other the volume. As the hand approaches the antennae, the pitch gets higher or softer. Playing this instrument requires great skill.
In the early 1920s Theremin went to the United States to promote his invention. He was given a studio to work in, and he trained several musicians to bring the invention into the public eye. At the same time he spied for the Russians, passing on secrets to contacts both in America and in London.
Set in London in 1929, Melissa Murray's play focused on Theremin's (Tom Hollander's) personality. Here was someone well aware of his gifts as an inventor, who treated most people around him with contempt - especially the idealistic musician Anna (Kate Ashfield), who adored him even while finding him outwardly repellent. When things became a little risky (as the Americans discovered Theremin's true reasons for living in London), Theremin immediately went to Anna, expecting her either to pay for his safe deportation to Uruguay, or to help him escape unnoticed by the authorities. To her credit, Anna refused both options, even while pitying him. Eventually Theremin realized there was little else he could do, other than to give himself up to the NKVD, who took him in and returned him to Soviet Russia. In truth, Theremin did not return to his home country until 1938, but dramatist Melissa Murray had obviously exercised some dramatic licence here.
Structurally Theremin resembled many other spy dramas, broadcast on Radios 3 and 4. Theremin's Soviet contact Olga (Anna Sowinski) was a hard-hearted person, whose only interest lay in the kind of secrets she could pass on to her masters. By contrast Anna's cousin Will (Trystan Gravelle), a junior civil servant, came across as fundamentally decent - someone who resented Theremin's outlook on life. Tom Hollander's previous credits include Cambridge Spies, a 2003 television dramatization of the early lives of Philby, Burgess and Maclean, where he played Burgess. As Theremin he gave a similar performance, as someone well aware of what he was doing, yet at the same time projecting an urbane facade. The only difference between the two characterizations was the fact that Theremin spoke with a heavy Russian accent.
Theremin was an interesting play; I particularly liked the way in which dramatist Murray depicted the central relationship between Theremin and Anna. The physicist at once despised her yet realized he could not do without her. The director of this Saturday Play was Marc Beeby.