“Radio 4 comes up trumps with today’s best drama, enthuses John Whitley”
The Look Across The Eyes
by Peter Gill
Review by John Whiteley in Country Life Magazine, 13 December 2001
A listener complained recently on Radio 4’s ‘Feedback’ about the poor quality of BBC drama. ‘Where were the playwrights who made the Sixties so stimulating?’ he demanded, and the head of drama must have been tempted to reply: ‘Just wait a few weeks.’
For within a month on Radio Four we have had new work by two of the period’s most distinguished dramatists in suitable polished and respectful productions. Indeed, Arnold Wesker’s two-hander ‘Groupie’ had the added value of the two hands belonging to a pair of copper-bottomed stars. Barbara Windsor was the vociferously Cockney hero-worshipper who pursued Timothy West’s grumpy and out of a fashion Royal Academician with a garrulity which ended by seducing rather than repelling him – a reversal which did little for the credibility of either character… .
… By contrast, Peter Gill’s two linked playlets, ‘The Look Across the Eyes’ and ‘A Lovely Evening,’ appeared almost wilfully modest. This portrait, perhaps equally autobiographical, of an insignificant family struggling to survive in the shadow of the decaying Cardiff docks, offered no grand themes, no famous names or grandiloquent statements: a mother struggling to hold her family together, father and uncle grow old in uncomplaining poverty sand an adolescent blossoms into first courtship.
But Gill possesses an alchemist’s genius for touching the dross of blunt mundanities with pure and indefinitely affecting gold. His ear for the enlivening nuance in every uninspiring platitude weights it with an unsuspected resonance while his narrative flair drives the story forward, even when the drama is limited to ironing a shirt or mending a puncture. Indeed, the most dramatic events occur off-stage: an ailing brother moves in, the mother dies, the son fails his exams.
Gill’s interest is in the buoyancy with which the human spirit carries on with the daily round in the face of darkest catastrophe and he examines this with the unpretentious precision of a Cambrian Chekhov. This is art that confers reality on the most unexciting characters and makes us care about the trivia of their lives.
This sort of detailed naturalism lat at the core of the Royal Court’s dominance of our theatre in the Sixties and it demands a painstaking application and a subtle scoring that is often harder to achieve than in more obviously dramatic pieces. Here, the acting (by Melanie Hill, Phillip Joseph and Richard Coyle) and the direction (by Mary Peate) was right on the button, enough to satisfy the most demanding ‘Feedback’ correspondent.
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