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Radio review: Room 5, and The Miser

21 January 2022

BBC

In Room 5 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Helena Merriman tells stories about life-changing diagnoses

In Room 5 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Helena Merriman tells stories about life-changing diagnoses

THE most gripping hospital dramas owe much to the detective thriller. The long-running TV series House, for instance, was a version of Sherlock Holmes doing battle with a few dozen of the rarest and most villainous conditions on the planet. The makers of Room 5 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) clearly understand this, and, in the first episode — in which Bex is taken with a mysterious syndrome that nobody understands — we were kept suitably gripped as the professionals interviewed possible suspects.

Presented by Helena Merriman, this new series promises to tell stories about life-changing diagnoses. Merriman tells us that she herself has had such an experience — though the details were not revealed in this first episode, and we are perhaps being encouraged to listen on to hear her particular tale.

The radio-documentary style guide now apparently insists that such accounts be delivered in the present historic, and against a backdrop of sound which earned its creators special production credits, even though the same effect could have been achieved with a morning’s rummaging in a sound library. With a story as strong as that delivered by Bex, silence is much stronger than an over-produced collage of aural emoticons.

But the story carried the day: one in which a cluster of symptoms, including paranoia and childlike behaviour, was eventually diagnosed as a rare form of encephalitis. The hero of the piece, a neurologist, Professor Sarosh Irani, was keen to spread word of this eccentric presentation, which, if unrecognised, may result in patients’ being sectioned unnecessarily.

The emphasis in this first episode was on the scramble for a diagnosis and cure — understandably, given the drama of the case. Yet the programme premise suggests an ambition to deal with life post-diagnosis; which, in Bex’s case, involved strenuous rehabilitation so that she could resume her life as a student of English literature.

Those of us unable to read 17th-century French are sadly unable to blame it on inflammation of the brain. But that need not prevent our appreciating the work of Molière, whose 400th anniversary it is this year — especially when adaptations come as niftily and wittily designed as Barunka O’Shaughnessy’s The Miser (Radio 3, Sunday). It helps when Toby Jones — surely the busiest British actor of all time — takes the title role, and the script whips along with an urgency that mirrors that of the characters in their lusty pursuit of love, marriage, and all the benefits that come thereafter.

This is not a production for the purists. The dandyish son Cléante has been transformed here into a character from Made in Chelsea, while, during the musical interludes, a soprano appropriates songs from Abba and Beyoncé. If you want justification for all this, you could argue that Molière was himself channelling the comedies of Plautus. But when it works as well as this, that hardly matters.

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