What’s the best thing you can do in 45 minutes? You could, as I did this evening, light the first fire of the winter in your lovely woodburning stove, and wait for the ensuing warmth to seep into the central heating system and all over the house.
Or, as I did later on in the evening, you can phone up your mum, who is so pleased that you have phoned that you spend the next 45 minutes in conversation. When I phoned earlier in the week, my mum wasn’t there, and it turns out that it was because my grandma had been unwell :-( There are other issues there, involving the fact that my grandma is my grandfather’s carer, and his illness exacerbates some unpleasant characteristics :-( We talked about our responsibilities to others, and how far we should take the onus on ourselves for other people’s happiness. We also talked about looking after ourselves, and taking care of ourselves.
So this was also a rewarding 45 minutes.
Or, if you don’t have a woodburning stove or demented relatives, you could listen to Nigel Planer’s radio play, The Magnificent Andrea.
In this play, Andrea is dead. Roger Allam plays her fiery ex-husband, Barry, on the way to the funeral, organised by Andrea’s current husband, Nigel (Nigel Planer).
Now I’m always up for a good radio play, but the problem with many Radio 4 afternoon plays is that they try to fit far too much action and back story into 45 minutes. As we have ascertained, 45 minutes is not that long. It’s just about enough time for me to get my house warm. It turns out that it’s not even long enough for a proper conversation, but when Lovely Daughter’s homework calls, homework calls.
The Magnificent Andrea is well judged in its simplicity. The first half is an extended comic set piece, based around Barry snarls at the hippy dippy culture of Nigel and Andrea’s new life together. Roger Allam does a fantastic job of inhabiting the tetchily bilious Barry. Underlying his bitterness is a terribly insecurity about his success and indeed the point of his life, exacerbated by his career as a freelance writer.
Opposite him, Nigel Planer tries to neutralise and soak away the abuse coming in his direction, in that ineffectual way developed by certain types of people to deal with an aggression they don’t have a natural understanding of.
The dialogue, which gently parodies these two opposing character types, is full of smile raising gems such as Nigel to Barry, after the latter has let rip with a particularly self-corruscating piece of abuse:
“You’re not a piece of excrement, Barry. You’re just out of balance with nature.”
This is the sort of comedy drama which makes you smile at the characters out of sympathy and a tickling recognition, rather than laugh out loud at a punchline. But that’s fine. If anything, it could have been a shade darker. The second half of the play moves towards Nigel and Barry’s recollection and reconstruction of the woman they both knew and loved. The depth of their grief is touched upon – Barry in particular has a strange, double grief to deal with, that for his relationship with a woman he clearly still had feelings for, and that caused by her death. But I guess that’s in the character of these two men. They’re the type who deals with things by frantic aggression, or by a studied avoidance.
If you have 45 minutes spare, you probably have central heating that you can flick on with a switch. So since you’re already one up on me, you can look here:
for The Magnificent Andrea.