Sharp intends his vacation in the country to be an opportunity to compose his own music, but when he hears Louie singing folk songs he asks if he can transcribe them. Louie is a repository of hundreds of songs, and fearing the oral tradition is nearing its end, Sharp wants to record them on the page so they're not lost with her generation. But by the next time he visits he's published the songs under his name and with his arrangements, and Louie feels betrayed. Folk is in a way a play about cultural appropriation, although Sharp would probably view it as his own culture, since it's English music and he's English. Louie has a more earthy way of viewing them, connected to the land that people worked on when they first sang them, and has little truck for national borders and identity.
The play's strongest moments are when Lawrence (who has a good singing voice I don't think we often get to hear on stage) takes us through this connection between songs and land; the central confrontation is pretty underwhelming though, and Leyshon's sympathetic characterisation of Louie can tip into slightly patronising Wise Fool territory. The suggestion that Sharp's obsession with the songs being part of an English identity has a darker political purpose is barely touched on, and although early on SSRB's avuncular performance has a slightly creepy edge in his dealings with Louie, the darker side of him suggested by the show's blurb could certainly have been explored more. With plenty of sound but not that much fury, radio may turn out to have been the best home for this after all.
Folk by Nell Leyshon is available until the 6th of June on BBC Sounds.
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.