Devil in the Fog by Leon Garfield, adapted by Martin Jameson

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BBC Radio 4, 24-25 December 2010
 Set in the mid-eighteenth century, Devil in the Fog involves an illusionist and his family, a bourgeois landlord, his rogue cousin, two highwaymen, bribery and several shootings. It a rip-roaring adventure in which nothing turns out as the hero George (Joe Dempsie) expects.


Marc Beeby’s production used Garfield’s material to make a comment on the fluidity of identity construction. George grew up in a stage illusionist’s family, but discovered that he apparently belongs to the Dexters, an aristocratic family that gave him away at birth. After living the life of a young bourgeois landowner, he discovers that Sir John Dexter (Sean Baker) wanted to kill him off. Having spent his formative years knowing his own mind and identity as an illusionist’s son, George was now the victim of an elaborate charade. The only way he could sustain his integrity was to trust in his role as the trustworthy narrator who explained what was going on for the listeners’ benefit. The fact that George retained this role, despite all the illusions unfolding around him, suggested that he has found the kind of identity he was comfortable with.


Beeby also commented on the nature of class-difference: while the Dexters were aristocratic in manners and background, their behaviour was particularly despicable. Sir John’s nephew Bertram (George Sanderson) treated George with utter contempt, in the belief that he had been deprived of his right to the family fortune. Bertram’s father Richard (Ben Crowe) felt that his son had been so evil that he proposed to disown him and adopt George instead. Eventually the Dexters got their just deserts: Sir John accidentally killed himself by firing a cracked pistol, while Bertram was left with nothing. By contrast the illusionist Treet (Tim McMullan) remained ever-reliable; he always cared for George, even though Treet was somewhat profligate in his spending, frequently leaving his family penniless. However he takes it upon himself to look after several children, while pursuing a hand-to-mouth existence performing on makeshift provincial stages.


Devil in the Fog also worked as a detective thriller, depicting George’s search for the mysterious Principal, a masked man who had given him to the Treet family when George was a baby, and who returned George to the Dexter family thirteen years later. Martin Jameson’s adaptation proceeded swiftly in a series of short scenes, linked by George’s narration. Beeby’s intelligent use of doubling contributed greatly to maintaining our interest in the thriller, with actors frequently cropping up in different roles in successive scenes. To pun on the plot, the principal interest of this production was its pace: I thoroughly enjoyed it.