Plenty of hot air on Hook but little fire
There was more style than substance to Was Dracula Irish? (BBC Radio 4, Monday), a tenuously themed documentary presented by the novelist Patrick McCabe. He sought to find out if the fictional vampire’s roots lay not in Transylvania but in the Ireland of the early life of its author, Bram Stoker. But his evidence was pretty slim.
Speaking to academics, McCabe heard that Stoker might have heard an ancient Irish myth about an indestructible blood-sucking chieftain; that his fascination with the “undead” may have originated with mummified remains in the family crypt; and that Dracula’s need to lie in Transylvanian soil was a possible reference to the land issue in Ireland. All in all, hardly a convincing case.
By the end, the novelist’s gift for self-consciously heightened language was the main thing carrying the programme. “Sight nor sound could I find of an incisor-bearing monster fearful of garlic,” was one typically mannered flourish.
In conclusion, McCabe said Stoker had probably used many influences, including his Irish background, to create his “Victorian melodramatic trash-pulp epic”. For all the pleasures of McCabe’s exaggerated oratorical style, the documentary seemed like a long-winded way of stating the obvious.
McCabe’s pitch-black tales of small-town life came to mind when listening to Drama on One: The Bacon Slicer (RTÉ Radio, Sunday), Andrew Fox’s play about homicide, hypothetical and otherwise, in a rural community. When Declan (Donal O’Kelly) tells his old friend Brian (Owen Roe) about his wife’s infidelity with the titular supermarket employee, the pair ponder the possibility of lethal revenge. As Brian, a self-centred middle-aged man who lives with his doting mother (Eileen Colgan) – “42 years living together and she still can’t get it into her head that I don’t like mustard,” he laments – expresses growing interest in this plan, a fateful secret from the past emerges, leading to a darkly comic, if hardly unexpected, denouement. The play’s debt to McCabe and indeed Martin McDonagh was obvious.
The winning entrant of this year’s PJ O’Connor award for radio drama, the play came with a twist, being performed live in studio as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Novel as this was, it was a sideshow to the play’s own virtues, notably Roe’s performance and Fox’s smart turns of phrase. Good radio, after all, requires more than hot air.
Radio moment of the week
Tales of woe are the stock in trade of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), but rarely are they as surreally compelling as the guitarist Brush Shiels’s account of his heart attack. He said that in a “dark night of the soul”, caused by a virus, he spent hours in an open field, nearly causing his heart to give out. His shaggy-dog retelling of his, ahem, brush with death – “the dampness got in me” was his idiosyncratic diagnosis – made for memorable radio.