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Radio review: Drama: Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Opening Lines, and Rethinking Music

24 March 2023


James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner was dramatised on Radio 4 on Sunday

James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner was dramatised on Radio 4 on Sunday

THE Scooby-Doo law of horror states that, whenever confronted by a spooky old house or a storm-tossed wood, one must always enter, preferably alone. By the same token, if you find yourself in the company of a deranged killer, you do not tie him up and alert the police, but, instead, spend the night engaging him in what you hope might be cathartic conversation.

Had the two female leads in Drama: Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Radio 4, Sunday) taken the sensible option, they would have spared themselves a whole heap of trouble — but then we might not have enjoyed the frisson delivered brilliantly by Robert Forrest’s adaption of the novel by James Hogg. Published in 1824, the book displays many of the characteristics familiar to devotees of modern horror: “found footage” in the form of a document purporting to be the confession of a serial killer, and — the obvious corollary of this — the suspicion that the narrator is not wholly to be trusted.

In Opening Lines (Radio 4, Sunday), which preceded the drama itself, John Yorke tried to explain the book to those of us who had not read it. But a book of such inventiveness requires an inventive treatment, and Forrest’s adaptation was wholly unexpected, landing us immediately into a tight three-hander in which two ladies attempted a mix between de-radicalisation and exorcism on the sinner Robert Colwan. During the encounter, the back story was revealed through Colwan’s multiple personalities — a conceit that had the twin benefit of focusing the drama and saving on production costs. I hope that Lorn Macdonald, who played Colwan, was paid the fees of half a dozen actors; for he was brilliant.

One therapy left untried here was music, even though its beneficial effect has been observed from the times of the ancients. Nowadays, the case for music in education is made primarily on its developmental merits rather than any sense of music’s intrinsic worth. Thus, in Rethinking Music (Radio 4, Tuesday), we heard how music could help students with everything from maths to marketing; and, along the way, you can earn yourself one of those sought-after “excellent” badges from Ofsted.

So, it was refreshing to hear from a teacher, Jimmy Rotherham, who has a less dewy-eyed view of music in schools. This real-life School of Rock character has been given a chance at a school in Bradford to develop a regular and coherent programme of music which eschews the exclusionary notion of “natural talent”. Despite the X-Factor myth, Jimmy was adamant that you do not succeed at music simply by breaking down your inhibitions and thinking about your dead granny. As with maths, if you put in the hours, you get better.

What is also clear is that — just this once — it is not all the fault of the Government. Some choices made about educational priorities are made by schools themselves. Jimmy’s journey began when he was sacked as a supply teacher for delivering five minutes of music at the end of a tedious maths lesson.

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