Corpses litter the place

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
THE LIFTED VEIL. By George Eliot, Radio 4. Sunday, October 5. 2.30-3.30pm

THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD. By J M Synge, Radio 4. Monday, October 6. 7.45-9.15pm.

Two things worth listening to this weekend include a fine new minting of a taken-for-grant-ed masterpiece - J M Synge's The Playboy of the Western World; the other, a curious dramatisation of the George Eliot novella, The Lifted Veil.

The latter is intriguing. It's a short novel turned into two 60-minute episodes. It is unusually morbid and Mary Shelley-ish for so intellectual a writer but it has an interesting idea at its heart: the deadliness of the gift of clairvoyance.

Latimer (Toby Stephens) is a delicate child - he loses his sight, then recovers it after a fall. He is sent to Switzerland to be educated, where he discovers that he is clairvoyant. He can sometimes see into the minds of others and knows some of what will happen - including the date of his own death.

When his brother dies in a riding accident, he marries his intended bride Bertha (Abigail Docherty). Latimer is besotted with her but gradually realises her true nature and a well-captured marriage-from-hell follows. His literary ambitions are thwarted by her behaviour, and eventually she begins to . . .

I won't spoil the ending for you, but it involves Frankensteinish practices with corpses and only just escapes the ludicrous. Nevertheless, it is a well-acted tale with a dark, almost fin de si cle decadence about it.

The Playboy has been cut sensibly and maintains the outrageousness that so shocked the Dublin audience 90 years ago. The story grips nicely and the poetry is allowed to sing but not to blur the sharp psychology of the action.

Christy Mahon comes into Pegeen Mike's country pub, "destroyed with walkin'". As a stranger he attracts interest; when he confesses that he has killed his da he quickly becomes a hero. The local women agree that there's "great temptation in the man that's killed his da." He eloquently dilates on "the bitter life" his father had led him, and replays the murder to orgasmic squeals from his audience.

He is dazzled by Pegeen, but for all his poetic wooing, seems to be aspiring to a role as a leisurely bartender in the pub. She is half-believing, half-doubting, her common sense is almost a match for his eloquence. She responds to his heartrending claim to have been "born lonesome as the moon of dawn" but thinks that if they married they'd be "strangling one another within a day".

This is all fine, sharp comedy, but the last few moments go awry when the action turns to farce as Christy tries a second assasination of his father, who, it turns out, was not dead at all.

Finbar Lynch is an excellent Christy - loveable, calculating and to the end utterly enigmatic, and Aisling O'Sullivan does an excellent job with Pegeen Mike - brisk, businesslike but still susceptible.

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