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Radio review: Different, Lent Talks, and Kafka’s Dick

06 April 2023

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Different with Nicky Campbell (Radio 5 Live podcast, released Tuesday) featured an interview with Theresa Cheung, a dream expert

Different with Nicky Campbell (Radio 5 Live podcast, released Tuesday) featured an interview with Theresa Cheung, a dream expert

OF ALL the ways to ingratiate yourself with an interviewer, there are surely few more powerful than to announce that you have already met in a dream. This was Theresa Cheung’s strategy — and, being a dream expert, she knows whereof she speaks. It worked; and so affected was Nicky Campbell, on Different (Radio 5 Live podcast, released on Tuesday of last week), that he went on to riff a song on the subject.

Ms Cheung’s life has unusual trajectories. She grew up home-schooled by her astrologer mother, then studied theology at King’s College, Cambridge, with the intention of going into the priesthood. She had a great anecdote about the chapel reading prize, where she bemused the judges with her characterisations. We heard nothing, sadly, of what dampened her vocational enthusiasm; and now she casts her spiritual net wider.

“We are all psychic,” she says; and a dream is never “just a dream”. We all have within us a “night poet” who reveals to us in wonderfully creative symbols our sub-conscious desires and anxieties. Nothing new or outlandish there; and, in discussion of her specialist subject, Ms Cheung turned out to be mainstream, credible, and — based on the way in which she interpreted a recent dream presented by Campbell — pretty good at her job.

Her dreamscapes are not metaphysical: they are located within the mental topography of the dreamer, and all characters and situations are their projections. All of this is fairly standard psychiatric methodology. Notwithstanding the title of this podcast, it emerges that Ms Cheung is not really so different after all.

In its fragmented character, Lent Talks (Radio 4, Wednesdays) have supported the hypothesis, recognised by anyone who has tried to convene a sermon series, that coherence operates in inverse proportion to thematic rigour. This year’s series has taken the Lord’s Prayer (rebranded “The People’s Prayer”) as its connecting thread, each contributor notionally taking a segment on which to expatiate.

But, with what seems like a very loose curatorial oversight, the offerings have been consistent only in so far as (almost) all have reflected on personal experiences of pain and loss, and yet without any particular commitment to the guiding text. This is not to deny the potency of some of the essays: Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates (8 March, still on BBC Sounds) and Nadiyka Gerbish (29 March) are particularly strong. But one is bound to wonder why, in this of all strands, the BBC feels unable to offer something more definitively theological.

The dreamworlds of Sydney and Linda enjoy dramatic and hilarious incarnation in Kafka’s Dick, Alan Bennett’s play from 1986, which, in turn, was brilliantly realised in a new radio production (Radio 3, Sunday). The play star a dream team led by Toby Jones and Mark Heap, and the bizarre plot involves Kafka and his friend Max Brod popping up in the suburban living room of one of his biggest fans. Whoever dreamt this needs expert help.

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