Friday, 13 May 2016

Radio Review: 13 May

Alistair McGowan’s drama hits all the right notes

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176It’s rare for me to listen to an Afternoon Drama on Radio 4. Possibly an embarrassing admission for a radio critic, but there you go. Sometimes even the ones that sound promising are turned off after five minutes. Even if the idea and the script are up to scratch, the acting might make my teeth itch.

Fortunately, there are no such problems with Field Notes: The Peregrinations Of A Most Musical Irishman (Tuesday, R4, 2.15pm), based on the true story of the roguish, dissolute and influential Irish pianist/composer John Field’s tour of Europe with his illegitimate son in the 1830s.

The titular hero (or anti-hero) is played by Alistair McGowan, who also wrote the piece, having become something of an expert in the Field after hearing his works on Radio 3 a few years ago. Meanwhile, Kieran Hodgson puts in a good turn as the son, forced to accompany a father he barely knows across the continent.

McGowan’s passion for the chap shines through and the sadness of Field’s story is leavened by some bawdy fun. Offered more limoncello for the pain caused by his bowel cancer, Field refuses, declaring that ‘champagne and yellow stuff has singularly failed to deaden my insides’. The surgeon offers the proper term: ‘Rectum’. Field replies ‘It probably has’. An ancient joke, but it still raised a laugh with me.

You can get a feel for the subject by listening at 11.30am on the same day to McGowan’s rather jolly documentary on Field. McGowan goes into the composer’s enduring reputation in his native Ireland and his adopted home Russia, and attempts to learn to play some of his repertoire himself. As I had no idea Field existed, McGowan and director Emma Harding’s awareness-raising exercise has clearly worked well. 

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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