*** DEBUG END ***

Radio review: Oleanna, Siddhartha, and Beyond Belief

23 February 2024


David Mamet’s Oleanna was dramatised on radio for the first time (Radio 3, Sunday)

David Mamet’s Oleanna was dramatised on radio for the first time (Radio 3, Sunday)

IT WAS one of the few times that I’ve seen grown men whoop and applaud in the theatre: that moment in David Mamet’s Oleanna when the verbal aggression turns physical, and the college lecturer John takes a swing at his tormentor, Carol. Back in the 1990s, it was the play that brought otherwise mild-mannered academics to blows and nailed the cult of “political correctness” and the cruel puritanism of progressive cultural politics.

It is surprising to hear, in the promotional blurb for Drama on 3’s production of the play (Radio 3, Sunday), that this is its first airing on radio. A two-hander with tight, claustrophobic dialogue, Oleanna seems an ideal script for the medium; and, for once, the cliché of being “as relevant today as ever” is entirely justified. The punishment meted out to Paul for his pompous narcissism might now entail cancellation as well as loss of tenure, but the charges laid at his door are familiar to anybody who must pick their way through what Mamet regards as the battlefield of higher education: sexism, racism, and elitism.

Encountering the play again, and with only words to convey its shifting power dynamics, one is struck by the clipped, halting dialogue from which one must deduce what exactly John’s academic discipline is, and what he has been attempting to teach in his lectures. In this respect, one feels a great deal of sympathy for Carol, who has paid for a college education in a subject neither she nor we can grasp, and the validity of which John himself smugly undermines. While his characters struggle for control over the mechanisms by which knowledge is disseminated, Mamet casts doubt on the intrinsic value of the knowledge itself.

The search for knowledge of a more profound kind is the theme of Hermann Hesse’s ponderous novel Siddhartha, loosely and inventively adapted by Hattie Naylor for Drama (Radio 4, Sunday). This fable of a Brahmin in search of Enlightenment lacks conflict, jeopardy, or intrigue, and yet manages to captivate, through its delicate changes of pace and sophisticated production. We hear barely a raised voice or a cross word, but continue to listen.

In Beyond Belief (Radio 4, Monday of last week), the topic was religious humour, and there to entertain us were a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew — which, had they all gone into a bar, might have occasioned its own meta-gag. The number of actual gags told was disappointingly low, perhaps because professional comedians are not going to give them away for free. And it’s tough, walking the line between playful joshing and mockery.

Spare a thought, though, for the Jewish comedian Rachel Creeger, who is painfully aware that, in every Jewish family, there is always at least one person who is at least as funny as she is.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)