07 June 2018

Listening recommended

Once I briefly talked about Cabin Pressure and how I thought it was the best thing to happen on radio since— music, maybe. Other than a place to discover new songs and artists, the radio has served no other purpose for me. A few talk shows helped pass the time, but I can't remember being hooked on one.

Anyway, Cabin Pressure became famous for Benedict Cumberbatch, I believe. But those who got into the program because of him would arguably, unanimously agree that BC is neither the single nor the brightest star in the flying machine. All four leads and guest actors have made their characters memorable. And each story — whether as a standalone or an instalment in a cohesive series — is well-conceived and beautifully written.

Speaking of, the real superstar for me is its writer, John Finnemore. Since their last season aired, I followed and tremendously enjoyed his other creation, Souvenir Programme, a sketch show also broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 —the thrill of setting the alarm at a weird hour so as to catch it live, even though it'll be made available in their site for a period of time.

Now I haven't been diligent for a while. In 2015 he premiered another radio program, which is currently, thankfully enjoying a re-run, otherwise I would've remained oblivious about it.

It's called Double Acts and is called so for various reasons, some of which are obvious, some of which I'd maybe figure out in future re-listens. The series is composed of non-connected two-handers, featuring characters who'd reveal two sides of themselves in the span of 30 minutes.

Double Acts and Cabin Pressure writer, John Finnemore. (Photo via BBC Radio 4 website)

Finnemore has to be one of the best storytellers out there and I'm glad that he chooses this lovely medium. I think in an interview (pardon my lack of citation, you're welcome to correct me at your leisure), he said that he likes the radio because it's cheap. He doesn't need to pay for an aircraft or a studio to set a story inside a plane. As someone on the receiving end, I get to take pleasure in his work for free, and at my convenience.

Double Acts tugs at my heartstrings while making me grin. After finishing Season 1 I'd say that Hot Desk ranks high in the charm department. We find a security guard and a receptionist sharing the same office desk — and not. The former clocks in at 1900 and clocks out at 0700, while the latter takes the inverse shift.  Meaning they have but a few seconds twice a day to interact. They are flirting — and not. Chapters in their story are squeezed in between hi-s and byes, and tension builds and builds with every encounter, through different inflections of the same old greetings and the little stupid things the one tries to do for the other.

I thought Hot Desk would be my favorite episode but English for Pony-Lovers hits closer to home. Here a young Englishwoman named Lorna gives an older German lady named Elke an English lesson. What's special about their meeting is how attuned they are to each other — the way a teacher and a student are in a meaningful class — even though their motives aren't exactly as noble as those we may associate with learning.

Like Lorna, I also earn a living by teaching English to foreigners; and like Elke, I also study another language. Guess I've just made matters uninteresting by fussing about myself, so allow me to fuss about actor Beth Mullen instead: She is hilarious as a lost teenager losing her shit while pretending to be an adult. The woman had me in stitches in a climactic monologue, or tantrum of sorts.

In English for Pony-Lovers, Finnemore gets to practice, no showcase his knack for wordplay. Except the games aren't only for laughs; they're woven into the narrative. Among his shows, all thoughtful about plot and character, Double Acts might have the highest regard for affect.

As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, I've been studying another language. French to be precise. If you're disciplined, you'll be able to construct your first long sentence soon enough. Yet I'm still anticipating for myself that moment that Elke had — when she was able to triumphantly exclaim, "I made my first joke in English!" Because then I had gone beyond the practical use of language.

To make someone feel something through words is intoxicating. That's what Finnemore does so well and I wish I had his superpower.

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