Things Might Change or Cease by Linda Marshall Griffiths

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 22 January 2012
Inspired by a line from King Lear, Linda Marshall Griffiths' play explored the consequences resulting from Austin Birtwhistle's (Oliver Cotton's) decision to abandon his family thirty-seven years previously. An old man now, he wandered along Brighton beach, reflecting on what might have been. His youngest son Tom (Jake Norton) had died as a young baby; Oliver conjured him up in his imagination as a mature man - someone who might be relied upon to safeguard him during his dotage.
This basic scenario provided the pretext for dramatist Griffiths to explore the relationship between 'truth' and imagination. For this, she used the metaphor of magic: Tom's elder brother Charlies (Ifan Meredith), was a professional illusionist, who astounded and delighted his audiences by telling them something about their lives. However he found it difficult to reconcile himself to the 'truth' about his own life; having discovered the existence of his half-sisters Lena (Deborah McAndrew), Nell (Jo Hartley) and Maggie (Julia Ford), he employed a magic trick of his own - based on something that Austin had done just prior to leaving - to check their identities.
By contrast the sisters dedicated themselves to the cause of 'truth'; having met up once again after many years, they tried to forget the past (where they had seldom kept in touch, even though they meant to) and tried to find out whether Charlie was related to them, or whether Austin still existed. We were left undecided as to whether their quest was successful or not: Austin might be walking up and down on Brighton beach, or perhaps the real 'truth' was that he had died and been buried in a pauper's grave.
In the light of the difficulties experienced in separating 'truth' from 'fiction,' it was perhaps not surprising that Austin had made that momentous decision to leave his family and branch out on his own. While he had certainly caused heartache to others, he had managed to create his own self-contained little world, in which illusion and disillusion simply did not exist.
Things Might Change or Cease was a complex piece, using multiple narrators as well as direct dialogue. At times we were left unaware whether the narrators were addressing us directly, or talking to an imaginary listener from within their own family. This was a deliberate strategy, designed to prompt reflection on the impossibility of separating truth from fiction. What we did understand, however, is that the consequences of break-ups within a family never go away, and blight any attempts at reconciliation. Anyone thinking otherwise is the victim of an illusion, just like the audiences witnessing Charlie's stage performances.
The cast were almost uniformly good, but I would like to commend Oliver Cotton for his vocally resonant performance, as he tried to drown his sorrows in drink yet found himself unable to do so. The past kept causing him perpetual anguish which could not be assuaged. The director was Nadia Molinari.