The week on radio
When humour doesn't come off, we abuse it in purely negative terms - it's unfunny, is all. When pathos fails to move us, we have a whole battery of words to train on it: not just sentimental but mawkish, maudlin, schmaltzy, soppy, sloppy, slushy.

All of which apply to To the Wedding, last week's Sunday Play on Radio 3. I was looking forward to this. For one thing, it is based on a novel by John Berger, who also helped with the job of dramatising it, and his feature Will It Be a Likeness? - a playful, buttonholing sequence of paradox and speculation on modern values - was one of the highlights of last year. For another thing, it was produced by Theatre de Complicite, one of our most exciting and original theatre companies, and you'd expect them to have some fresh ideas about radio drama.

Not so, unfortunately. Although much of the play was recorded on location around Europe - the characters are converging from various points on the wedding of Gino and his HIV-positive bride, Ninon - this only paid off at one or two points in terms of life-like sound or acoustic variety. In fact, the production observed quite rigidly the traditional patternings of radio drama - dialogue placed firmly in the foreground, narrative voiceover done with a close-up microphone.

But you doubt that a more lively acoustic could have convinced you that this cast of characters, with their simple dignity, earthy wisdom and pure, sensual enthusiasms (food, sex, dancing) were anything but puppets, twitching to the tune of Berger's simplistic Arcadian politics - he wants to celebrate the persistence of family, and love, and peasant joys in the jaws of modern capitalism. And much of Berger's language is wooden and mock-profound - like Ninon's lament, when she learns that she has the virus, that she faces "latex solitude for ever and ever" (not exactly a great advert for safe sex, given that the play was broadcast to mark World Aids Day).

It all ended with Gino and Ninon dancing on the sand near the mouth of the Po ("We don't need music," she tells him). The intention, clearly, was to be life-affirming; but if life can only be affirmed through such artificial, Disneyfied joys, you start to wonder whether it's really all it's cracked up to be.

It's a relief to turn from this to the lightness and scepticism of Hello, Darling, I'm Home (Radio 2, Tuesday), in which Russell Davies looked at how the BBC has depicted the family over the years. This was a far more politically searching programme than To the Wedding: Davies showed how a caricature of the nuclear family (mum, dad, boy, girl) has been permitted to dominate broadcasting in a way it has never dominated society, and in doing so made you realise how conservative and narrow that vision of the family is.

He also fitted in a range of alternative human experience: Terry Scott's bizarre obsession with the depth of his daughter's sexual knowledge; the Oedipal excesses of the Ronnie Corbett vehicle Sorry!; Beryl Bainbridge describing how her mother- in-law tried to shoot her; and a long, if ultimately fruitless, consideration of the role of the mother-in-law joke. No sentimental gravity here - just lightness and airy wit.

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