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Radio review: A Bright Yellow Light, Soul Music, and Winter Solstice

03 January 2020

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Nadim Ednan-Laperouse (centre), whose daughter, Natasha, died after having an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a sandwich, describes a religious vision that he had, in A Bright Yellow Light (Radio 4, Christmas Eve)

Nadim Ednan-Laperouse (centre), whose daughter, Natasha, died after having an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a sandwich, describes a religious v...

WE ARE told by the experts that, in most forms of communication, the visual trumps the aural: and that is why television, more often than radio, will carry warnings about scenes that are liable to cause upset. But, when the description of trauma is as vivid as that articulated by Nadim Ednan-Laperouse in A Bright Yellow Light (Radio 4, Christmas Eve), then the effect is every bit as devastating as if the epis­ode had been played out in hideous technicolour.

It is three years since Nadim’s daughter, Natasha, died on a flight to Nice after having an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a sand­wich. The incident, resulting from in­­adequate information on the sand­wich packaging, led to an inquiry and a new law. Mr Ednan-Laperouse is a toy designer by profes­sion: a man with an eye for detail, little of which was spared as he talked us through the story.

The clarity of description which he brought to bear on this element of the story made the second half that much more powerful: at the moment of his daughter’s death, surrounded by paramedics attempt­ing to restart Natasha’s heart, Mr Ednan-Laperouse had a vision of angels: five of them, to be precise, all in yellow and unlike the type of angel that you might find in trad­itional illustrations.

He is now a convinced Christian, having had no religious engagement until that point. “I don’t mind if people think I’m an idiot,” he de­­clared. Nobody, listening to this extraordinary piece of radio, would ever dare to call him an idiot.

That same combination of tragedy and consolation is the crucial in­­gredient also of the Coventry Carol, the subject of the Christmas Day edition of Soul Music (Radio 4). The genres of lullaby and lament are closely intertwined, never more power­fully than in this song, re­­cruited as a Christmas carol from a medieval Mystery play. We heard versions of the song by a variety of artists, some of them straining to make more of the simple tune than there really is, and accounts of how the music had played a special part in personal or public stories, the most poignant of which was the broadcast perform­ance from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral on Christmas Day 1940 — a strange but apt appropriation as the city la­­mented the destruction of its medi­eval past.

No consolation is on offer in Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play Win­­­ter Solstice (Radio 3, 22 De­­cem­­ber). The set-up is typical of the genre in which a family gathering is interrupted by an unexpected knock on the door. The stranger, charming at first, morphs into an embodiment of Germany’s horrific past.

The play takes the form of a film treatment: the detailed stage dir­ections and psychological comment­ary were delivered by a narrator — a conceit that is eminently suited to radio. Not something to get you in the festive mood, perhaps, but cer­tainly worth revisiting online.

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