The week in radio: Creativity, thy name is Woman

Voluspa R4 Bleak House R4 Enoch Arden R4 Gaia R4 For One Horrible Moment R4 Susan Jeffreys Says ... R2

On top of the world in Iceland, not far from Reykjavk, pulses the fontanelle of the globe. On a bleak and windswept plain, inconceivably vast tectonic plates grind slowly against each other, sending tremors along volcanic faults to threaten earthquakes on distant continents. And in this barren, constantly changing landscape, the Norse people composed their sagas, dreaming up myths and allegories to explain the origins of mankind. Towards the end of the last millennium, before the arrival of Christianity, a visionary prophet wrote Voluspa, a great alliterative poem recounting the creation of the world, its destruction by greed, avarice and war, and its eventual rebirth.

Introducing a new translation of Voluspa (R4), the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie remarked that scholars have always assumed it to have been written by a man. Yet the poet speaks as a woman, declares herself to be a woman and - it has recently, tentatively, been suggested - might actually have been a woman. So this anonymous, shamanic female vision was narrated by Jamie herself. It made a suitably apocalyptic start to the last year of our own, weary old millennium.

"Listen up," she commanded, "you rabble and mighty alike, as I do the bidding of Odin himself" - and she was off, describing the world as dominated by Yggdrasil, the ancient ash-tree, under whose branches such characters as Have-a-go-Hero, Clever-Bastard, Finn-the-Frost and Finn-the-Wry performed their daring deeds. And the more she spoke, the more familiar her story sounded. The first man and woman, she said, had life breathed into them by the gods; Frig, the saintly mother, wept for the death of her heroic son, while a cock was crowing for the third time. The earth, the seer predicts, will perish when fire erupts against fire, playing against heaven itself until the bright stars vanish. But a better world will follow: a dark and gleaming dragon will clear away the corpses of the slain while the good rejoice forever in halls of gold.

Among such startlingly Biblical images lurked shadowy creatures belonging to a Germanic world - wolves, dwarfs and giants and the yellow-beaked carrion crow. The poem, punctuated by an echoing chorus, somnolent bees, mournful owls and, occasionally, strong rhyming and alliterative sequences, was magnificently produced by Tim Dee. I had only two minuscule problems with it. One was to do with genealogy - I needed one of those who-begat-whom lists to follow it - and the other came because I found a repeated phrase risible, when it was probably intended to be ecstatic. What do you think of "lush with leeks"?

There are many ways of broadcasting literary works. Two, from the 19th century, have recently been aired, in very different forms. Last weekend came the final episode of John Dryden's highly original Bleak House (R4), recorded on location, with a microphone following the actors, for all the world like a contemporary documentary. This allowed the heavy message, that the courts of Chancery offer wealth and happiness only to lawyers, to sound loud and clear.

Particularly in the wake of Claire Tomalin's discoveries about his loathsome marital hypocrisy, some of us find Dickens's portentous and moralising narrative hard to stomach, but this method dispensed with it, leaving only a gripping, intricate story. True, Esther Summerson was addressed as "little woman" too often for comfort but, in a superlative cast, Clare Price shone with such convincing goodness that even such sugary epithets failed to grate. The scene in which she discovers the body of her tragic mother, Lady Dedlock, slumped in the fog at the gate of the burial ground just before dawn on a foul winter's night, even wrung a tear from a hardened and cynical critic. The serialisation ended with the dotty Miss Flite releasing her caged birds, with the grand farewell: "Goodbye, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon!" To hear this was ten thousand times better than having to read it.

Tennyson took an even more sentimental line with the hero of his poem, Enoch Arden (R4). Poor old Enoch sails away from wife and family, bearing a lock of hair cut from the head of his sickly baby. He is shipwrecked and given up for lost, but returns, ghost-like, to discover his wife married to their childhood friend. Reluctant to disturb their bliss, he lingers on and only on his death-bed, clutching the curl of the now-dead infant, discloses his identity: "Tell her I died blessing her, praising her, loving her." Beat that, Dickens! In Viv Beeby's production, Andrew Sachs narrated with careful sensitivity while Victor Sangiorgio played the accompanying music - by Richard Strauss, no less - with all the melodramatic verve of a silent movie pianist.

Back to creation myths now, and Gaia (R4), by the talented playwright Sarah Woods, which began a series of "Elemental Tales". More bees featured in this, but these anthropomorphic insects spoke through a maddening buzz, in Cheshire Cat riddles, to a child called Hebe. Hebe is in fact a stroppy brat, but she gets the full Alice in Wonderland treatment, falling down holes into mysterious lands where creatures of varying malevolence change size, float away or eat disgusting things (including her dead mother).

When she eventually discovers the weary Earth Goddess Gaia, we change gear and do a rapid gallop through the history of London, via the likes of Chaucer, Cranmer and Queen Victoria, skeetering to a halt with the death of Diana. Neither protagonist pays any attention to this pageant (even when Wilfred Owen's masterpiece "Futility" is disgracefully misquoted) and Hebe emerges from the underground tunnel at Piccadilly, without a ticket. It was a right old muddle - but there might well be half a dozen fine plays in the material. Your reviewer remained unconvinced by Gaia's gnomic utterance that "the hardest thing is letting go of your children": any mother, Earth or otherwise, might welcome some respite from Hebe.

If you need respite from all this angst, try Peter Bradshaw's great new cod-gothick "autobiography" For One Horrible Moment (R4). In the first episode our hero introduced his manic father, who made his money in bleach and retired to the Fens, there to wield his cane, "Mr Swishy", across his hapless son - who, in turn, takes pleasure in the company of his Nicaraguan terrier, Jif Mousse. Bradshaw narrates this enjoyable twaddle with earnest bewilderment.

And if even that isn't frivolous enough, pay attention when Susan Jeffreys Says Make it a Double (R2). Jeffreys and her producer, Francesca Plowright, are adept at discovering terrific old songs, as was proved in the prize- winning series Ironic Maidens, and here they do it again. The first programme was all about songs of work and Jeffreys offers a sly commentary to link these treasures. She asks, for example, whether the Judds, mother and daughter, honestly expect us to believe in their hard labour at the coal face when they sport such elegant manicures on their CD cover? Here is her choice:

"Pep, Vim and Verve", Andy Paley and Jeff Vincent;

"Dig Dig Dig for your Dinner", Phil Silvers and Gene Kelly;

"16 Tons", The Purefys;

"Working in a Coal Mine", The Judds;

"Little Betty Bouncer", Flotsam and Jetsam;

"Ferme jusqu'a lundi", Mireille and Jean Sablon;

"Full Time Job", Johnny Ray and Doris Day;

"The Gas Man Cometh", Flanders and Swann;

"Gone Fishin", Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial