Saturday 25 November 2017

The Week in Radio:

Playwright Brian Friel, pictured in 2009
Playwright Brian Friel, pictured in 2009

I’m as happy as a dog with two tails,” said Linda, from Drogheda, on Sunday. On Sunday with Gay Byrne to be precise.

 A show freshly roused from its summer hibernation and back to thrill the Lindas of the nation once again.

Well... I guess if we’re being precise, we didn’t exactly hear Linda say those words. Her actual voice was, y’know, absent. And so we can’t, if we’re to approach this thing (as we should) with proper deductive rigour, be entirely sure that Linda exists.

Linda’s dog-with-two-tail happiness — if it exists and if she exists — was

(allegedly) linked to the reassuring radio return of Uncle Gaybo. “It’s yourself,” said Gay, meaning himself, and channelling Linda, if you see what I mean, “back to help me get through the dark days of winter.”

Gay sounded genuinely chuffed by this enthusiasm. So, even if Linda is non-existent (which she’s probably not) then she has, at least, made one person happy. Which is more than can be said for some of us.

There was lots of this on Sunday’s show. Lots of listeners giving thanks that Gay had been returned to them, now that “the starlings are gathering in flocks before their flight south and the days are getting shorter,” as one listener poetically put it. “Winter approaches,” he continued, sounding like a milder/less dead Jon Snow, “and Gay is very welcome back on the air.”

There was, to be fair, lots of other stuff on Sunday’s show too. And it’s become a pretty predictable, but strangely compelling, mix. Large groovy dollops of Tommy Dorsey (or Count Basie, or Benny Goodman) mixed with chunks of Gaybo self-promotion (news of one-man shows... updates on The Meaning of Life). All seasoned with lots and lots of “lovely, lovely” messages from (possibly existent) listeners and a zesty pinch or two of purse-lipped disapproval.

And if you can filter out the other (more irritating) elements, the hot jazz and the spicy curmudgeonry are sufficiently tasty to make Sunday with Gay Byrne the oddly moreish thing it continues to be.

Friday’s Arena was more concerned with sad departures than (reasonably happy) returns. Its hour-long tribute show to Brian Friel must have been hastily cobbled together — given Friel’s death earlier that day — but it was elegantly assembled, so you couldn’t really tell.

Host Sean Rocks asked Joe Dowling (on the line from New York) to “bring us back to the early 1960s and... the sort of theatre people were used to seeing before Philadelphia, Here I Come came along”.

Dowling spoke about how The Abbey was (at the time) going through a “very moribund phase” and how “many of the plays did have housekeepers and priests and schoolteachers and the letter from America”.


“So the excitement of... Philadelphia, Here I Come,” said Dowling, “was that [Friel] took those dimensions of Irish drama and turned them right on their head.”

“It was revolutionary,” he said. “It changed Irish theatre, I think.”

Richard Pine (in Greece) praised Friel’s “theatre of memory... the way in which he teases memory... teases history... merges fact and fiction”.

Sinéad Cusack remembered “Brian the man”, who she’d known from childhood, long before she knew “Brian the playwright”.

“There was magic to him even then,” she said, “he loved actors.”

“If you look at 20th-century Irish theatre,” concluded Dowling, “he is by far the master. Synge died too young. O’Casey exiled himself... there is no-one like Brian Friel. There is no-one to match him.”

A happy tribute, then. On a sad day.

Sunday with Gay Byrne, Lyric FM, Sunday

Arena, RTE Radio1, Weekdays

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