Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Radio review: I Am the Wind

I guess we're now reaching the point where I'm starved enough of theatrical content to be seeking out stuff I strongly suspect I won't like: Nearly ten years ago the Young Vic staged an elaborately designed and directed production of Jon Fosse's I Am the Wind, which came with much discussion of how the Norwegian playwright was one of the most frequently staged throughout Europe, except for the UK where he was virtually unknown. Well in the subsequent decade I haven't seen another Fosse play, nor do I even think I've heard of any major production being staged, so it's probably safe to say the play wasn't the hoped-for London breakthrough. I think the reviews were generally scathing, and my own opinion was that while the production was spectacular I remained unconvinced that there was much of substance underneath it. Now the same English version by Simon Stephens gets a radio production from Toby Swift, and what better way to see if my opinion's changed than by stripping the play down to just words and sound effects?

Two men are in a small boat out in a cold sea; The One (Lee Ingleby) is suicidal, attracted to the water while fearing the inevitability of throwing himself in. The Other (Shaun Dooley) is saddened by the prospect of losing his friend, and variously tries to understand his feelings and comfort and support him. They sail around, docking at small islands, where The Other invariably gets stuck while tying up the boat and has trouble getting back on. The dialogue is very much along the lines of:
"They say food tastes better at sea."

I'm all for audiences having to put their brains in gear but I'm old-fashioned enough to think the playwright should do some of the work too, and among all the quasi-Beckettian dullness very little is apparent of what Fosse actually wants us to take from the play. I can see how this might make him such a hit with European directors' theatre, which tends to take the text as a starting point rather than as gospel - I Am the Wind is about depression in such a nebulous way that a director would be free to bring their own interpretation, with visuals as literal or metaphorical as they liked. Here the sound effects conjure up literal visuals of two men in a boat, and while Ingleby and Dooley manage to convey a remarkable amount of depth and subtlety in their voices I'm still left thinking the words they're saying are so vague as to offer little in the way of insight, let alone entertainment.

I Am the Wind by Jon Fosse in a version by Simon Stephens is available until the 19th of July on BBC Sounds.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

Illustration credit: Darren Hopes / Radio Times.

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