The station that won't stop letting its hair down

RADIO: In which Kenny Everett meets Richard Wagner, and Radio 3 launche s a dogged attempt to convince Robert Hanks it's a happening kind of place
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The Independent Culture
There aren't, just off the top of my head, any obvious connections between Kenny Everett and Richard Wagner. You could categorise them both as icons of the right, if you count Everett's appearances at Conservative Party conference, waving a pair o f crutches and saying he was Michael Foot; but this is pretty thin. So the least you can say for Matt Thompson's Ringlets (Radio 3, Wednesday) is that in turning the Ring Cycle into a homage to Everett's Captain Kremmen it is making a considerable imagin ativeleap.

The debt to the original Kremmen series, broadcast on Capital Radio in the Seventies, is easy to spot: the five-minute, comic-strip format, the fact that one man (David Holt) does all the voices - some of the voices even sound like direct lifts from Everett's repertoire - the extreme condensation of action, the funny noises and constant excursions into bathos. But while it's always nice to see a radio programme with a sense of tradition, you do frequently find yourself wondering what the point of Ringlets is.

The drawback is the huge discrepancy between the level of allusion and the level of humour - I may be wrong, but there cannot be many people who take an interest in Wagner and are also going to be impressed by lines such as : "Curse on the Ring. Whosoever possesses it shall be pretty miserable and die much sooner than they would've. Nyaah."

Come to that matter, not many Kenny Everett fans would get a lot out of this - his best radio material was both a touch wilder and a touch more subtle. Ringlets relies too heavily on the notion that because Wagner's works are far too long, it's funny to do them short. I don't say that it's not funny; just that if it is funny, then it's to a very limited constituency.

Thompson did much the same sort of thing for Radio 1 earlier in the year, with a series of one-minute lives of the great scientists, so it is possibly unfair to draw a wider moral from Ringlets. But it is tempting to read it as a symptom of the crisis ofconfidence at Radio 3.

At times, the station comes across as a rather serious, egg-headed schoolboy who wants desperately to join in the jokes with all the other chaps but doesn't know quite how to go about it. On Sunday evening, for example, there was a horribly facetious trail for the week ahead, in the form of a trial in which an insubordinate counsel irritated the judge by calling Radio 3 programmes as evidence. The intended implication must have been that Radio 3 is one of those happening things that judges are too comically fuddy-duddy to know about, like Snoop Doggy Dogg, say, or Pot Noodles, but it all felt embarrassingly unhip.

It was a relief, after this, to arrive at the unrelieved gloom and blood thirstiness of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Radio 3, Sunday) part of the "Operama" season of dramatisations of the stories behind operas. Stephen Mulrine's adaptation of Nikolai Leskov's story was elegantly done, and the acting was mostly good, particularly Blythe Duff as the ruthless farmer's wife who does away with husband, father-in-law and a small, extremely pious child so that she can carry on having it away with her husband's steward.

The production was good enough to sweep you along if you were prepared to let it, apart from the scenes involving the small boy - quite clearly an elderly man trying it on, and you couldn't blame the lovers for putting a pillow over his face at the earliest opportunity. It was just a shame that the play was overshadowed by the New York Metropolitan's performance of Shostakovich's opera, broadcast on Saturday night - the effect was like getting surtitles on a 24-hour delay, and the sense of anti-climax was emphasised by having Shostakovich's music injected at climactic moments, which seemed like an admission that the drama couldn't work by itself.

Again, it is the lack of confidence that is so disturbing. It sometimes feels as though what Radio 3 really needs is a pat on the back and the reassurance that we still like it. Well, we do, don't we?