Robert Hanks: Undercover acting knocks spots off the traditional kind

The Week in Radio

The two best pieces of acting on the radio this week both came in an edition of
Crossing Continents (Radio 4, Thursday) on the Liberian orphan trade. One of the consequences of a couple of decades of civil war in Liberia has been a steady supply of children who need taking care of – because they're orphans, or because their parents can't make ends meet poverty. Since western countries, the US in particular, have a steady supply of would-be parents, canny middlemen have taken advantage of the situation, setting up adoption agencies. Nadene Ghouri and her producer visited an agency in Monrovia, pretending they were a Canadian couple looking for a child.

Runner-up for performance of the week was "Bishop" Ed Kofi, the agency's head, for his impression of Christian bonhomie. Asked how much an adoption would cost, he was so busy chuckling at the bountiful ways of Providence that he could hardly get out the answer: "It's free. It's free, it's free." But you couldn't help feeling that he'd run through this script before. The winner was Ghouri herself, for a portrait of barely contained maternal desperation that contained flashes of improvisatory brilliance: "If I want to adopt one tomorrow – which [slightly hysterical giggle] I know I'm going to – how much will it cost us?" Even better was the way she pushed the money question, pretending it was her mean old husband who wanted to know: "Go on, put him out of his misery, tell him how much." The answer turned out to be $5,000, which is almost the same as free. In a way, the performance was counterproductive. Ghouri had uncovered a dispiriting story, of loving families wanting to do their best for hungry children being conned into giving them up for ever. But the programme left me with a buzz of pleasure and admiration.

You don't get acting like that in the actual plays on the radio, especially not these days, when everything feels like it's being done without rehearsal. My current bugbear is Jack Woolley's prolonged descent into dementia in The Archers – a long overdue attempt by radio to understand the difficulties associated with an affliction that is all too often swept under the carpet. Yeah, I get that, but if I hear him putting on his little-boy-lost voice one more time, hooting like an anxious Clanger with a Stirchley accent, either I or the radio will be going through the window.

When I say that I have no complaints about the acting in Tamburlaine: Shadow of God (Radio 3, Sunday), you can take it as praise of the highest kind. John Fletcher seems to have made something of a speciality of turning epic military campaigns into somewhat sardonic radio dramas. Back in 1991, I loved a play of his called 'Russia', about British troops fighting with the White Russians in the aftermath of the First World War, and straggling to safety halfway across an inhospitable continent. More recently, Radio 3 did his version of 'The Sicilian Expedition', based on Thucydides (now I think of it, Russia was really an updating of Xenophon's 'The Persian Expedition'). 'Tamburlaine', based on the last years of the 14th-century conqueror, had some epic moments early on – descriptions of a massacre (including pyramids of heads, a whole family scalded into statuary by molten lead pouring from a burning roof) were beautifully done. But with the entrance of an Arab philosopher and a poet, it quietened down too much: the confrontation between dictator and intellectual has been done before. Fletcher has a rich and eccentric imagination, and he's more at home conquering new empires than treading familiar ground.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week