The Lost Salford Sioux by Anjum Malik

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 15 January 2012
Anjum Malik's play was inspired by the real-life story of Surrounded by the Enemy, a real-life Native American who is believed to have been buried beneath the streets of Salford.
Its three main characters embraced different views of death: Surrounded by the Enemy (Anthony Forrest) understood that it was simply a continuation of life. However he needed someone to help him return his bones back to his homeland so that his spirit could be released. Alison (Lorraine Cheshire) was a Ph.D. student returning to Salford after a sojourn in China; she regarded death as little more than a thesis topic to be analysed in minute detail across different cultures. Her grandmother Violet (Sue Jenkins) refused to acknowledge death's presence; both her husband and her daughter had died prematurely, and as a result she perceived it as something threatening.
Given the diversity of the protagonists' views, it was hardly surprising that they could not relate to one another. Violet and Alison were like ships that passed in the night, even though they lived in the same house. Alison was so dedicated to her new job at a funeral director's - part of her doctoral research - that she could not understand what Surrounded by the Enemy wanted. He was just a ghostly presence, to be rejected rather than acknowledged.
Alison's views radically changed as she collapsed to the ground with a brain tumour. Like her mother before her, it seemed as if she would die prematurely; her spirit spoke directly to listeners, as she observed her body lying lifelessly in a hospital bed. Violet sat beside her bed; as she looked at Alison, she acknowledged - perhaps for the first time - that she should acknowledge death's omnipresence.
As luck would have it, Alison miraculously survived: as a result of this experience both women understood what Surrounded by the Enemy wanted. Unless his bones were returned to their rightful place, he could not be at peace with himself. The play ended with Alison taking his bones out of the Salford car park (where they had been temporarily placed), and throwing them in the river, to be washed away by the current. As she did so, the strains of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" could be heard on the soundtrack. Johnny Mercer's lyrics ("Moon river, wider than a mile/ I'm crossing you in style some day/ Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker/ Wherever you're going, I'm going your way") emphasized the symbolism of water as something eternal, uniting life and death, sleep and wakefulness.
The action took place in a town experiencing profound changes. Older buildings such as the community centre were threatened with demolition, despite the local people's objections. They sang songs - not only as a leisure activity, but to emphasize their feeling of solidarity. As the play ended, so Violet, Alison and Surrounded by the Enemy experienced a similar sense of solidarity. The Lost Salford Sioux proved an uplifting experience, emphasizing the importance of community as a means of coping with life ...  and death.