Radio review: In Vino Veritas, The Essay: Italy Outdoors, and Business Matters

21 September 2018

PA

Lenny Henry plays the Revd Marcus Campbell, in In Vino Veritas (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

Lenny Henry plays the Revd Marcus Campbell, in In Vino Veritas (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

WE HAVE all seen the type: the preacher who is just a little too fond of his or her own jokes, and not as attentive as is advisable to the message. There is a subtle moment in the opening scene of his play In Vino Veritas (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) when Lenny Henry’s character passes the point when witty preamble becomes a grandstanding comedy routine.

There is something of the Bishop Michael Curry in his performance, but the Revd Marcus Campbell is all gag and no substance. The Wedding at Cana gets the full stand-up treatment, but we are left with a thin, immature brew.

Henry is the writer as well as the star of this well-paced drama, and, even if the tragedy that necessarily punctures Campbell’s hubris is somewhat predictable, the manner of his downfall is played out with skill and well-judged wit. The best lines, as ever, go to the devil, posing as our Lord, and the final indignity for Campbell comes at the point when he is trying to make reparation for his sins.

The only problem with all of this is Henry himself: an actor who has proved himself capable of the greatest classical acting challenges, and yet a personality whom one cannot find despicable. We needed to have real contempt for Campbell for the drama to land its punch.

In our tyrannically visual age, it is hard for any writer to compete with the ubiquity and accessibility of images. So, you have to be an outstanding writer to render prose describing works of art which is more appealing than viewing the work itself via Google. That was the effect of hearing Polly Coles describing Italian churches (Friday’s contribution to The Essay: Italy Outdoors, on Radio 3).

With a click, you can summon up a photo of the ossuary at San Bernadino delle Ossa, Milan, on your computer, but Coles’s writing manages a beautiful balance between calm clarity and the engagement of sentiment, such that this and other spaces are animated.

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Churches are enclosed spaces, but they make it into Coles’s series because they maintain a fluid relationship between the public and private, the outdoor and the indoor. They are places for intimacy and public celebration, and from which the sounds of devotion from within are communicated through bells and music to the piazza.

Business Matters (World Service) last Friday reported on a phenomenon from the United States which looks vaguely familiar. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is forcing the gun manufacturers Ruger & Co. to examine the part that they play in gun violence, through shareholder power. So far, so responsible. But it raises the question whether organisations should be investing in companies of which they disapprove, in order to shift company policy, or disinvest and encourage others to do likewise.

To put it crudely, it is about the direction in relation to the tent in which you wish to micturate. Somehow, I cannot see the time coming when a company that sells customised rifles to pre-teens does any meaningful soul-searching.

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