THE CRITISC RADIO: And they all slept happily ever after

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One night my sister and I had the same dream. It happened ages ago, during a holiday in Austria, and although we have never managed to invest it with any major significance, it was a scary and portentous experience. The idea that two people's sleep could be haunted by the very same characters doing the very same things was behind Olwen Wymark's play Out of the Woods (R4 & WS).

Bertha is a widow trying to sell her house; Sam is a prospective buyer. She feels guilty that her horrible husband died, drunk, on a motorbike, and that she is glad to be rid of him; he is troubled because his mother died before he had a chance to make his peace with her. Both are receiving very doubtful help - Sam from a group of deranged characters in a therapy group, Bertha from a pretty useless, supposedly Californian psychiatrist. When they both manage to ditch this assistance they are left to their dreams, which eerily converge until they both hear Sam's mother cackling as Bertha's husband hurtles towards him on his bike, with murderous intent. Bertha's phone shrills through the scary dark: it is Sam, reassuring her that he has survived the nightmare, and the whole thing ends improbably, but very satisfactorily - in her bed.

Radio plays, with their wide imaginative dimension, unique-ly permit such flights of fancy. This one was tinged with the pleasing irony that Sam used the World Service, as so many people do, to help him fight against broken sleep. What could be more soporific than a solemn pre-dawn, antediluvian voice announcing a talk on "My years as a tenant farmer"?

The week's star play was also stuffed full of improbabilities and incidental pleasures. Amanda Root, who was so marvellous as Anne Elliott in the television adaptation of Persuasion was, if anything, even better as Cassandra in a dramatised version of Dodie Smith's famous novel I Capture the Castle (R4). She is 17 and a committed romantic, living in a ruined Suffolk castle with her penniless, blocked, novelist father, her glamorous, wayward stepmother and her ambitious sister, played with relish by an unusually scheming Helena Bonham Carter. Into this already whimsical scene step two dashing, rich American brothers. And the plot thickens as if with a ladleful of cornflour.

At times it was farcical, as when the sisters, clad in ancient furs, are mistaken for bears and nearly shot; at times melodramatic to the point of risibility. But goodness, it lessens the tedium of reality to hear such things. As the breathless Cassandra confides increasingly heightened fantasies to her simmering journal, and midsummer arrives with garlanded ritual and great tornadoes of Debussy, you teeter on the cusp of switching it off with a snort - or doing as I did and simply wallowing. By the end, Cassandra would surely win her man, the moon would continue to resemble luminous snow in the deepening blue and the old boy might even write another book. Oh, let's just dream on.

Real diarists bring you back down to earth - and mud, weeds, wind and frost. Frankly, I preferred Dear Diary (R4) in its old format when each week was marked by the jottings of previous centuries, written on the same calendar date. Instead, the series has become categorised so that last week we had tedious sportsmen and this week dissatisfied gardeners. It makes the listener tetchy. Where was John Evelyn, the mentor of both gardeners and diarists, in this parade? Answer: absent. Instead we had a year largely punctuated by grumblers. Chief moaner was Gilbert White plagued by May frosts, June droughts, July floods and August turnip-flies. No wonder he needed to bring out his garden- engine (sorry, his what? Don't even ask).

Even doughty Vita Sackville-West couldn't lift the gloom. Thrilled as she was to spend a glorious May day weeding in 1920, her husband was still complaining in December that she had no sense of shape in her garden- planning. Time, and trillions of Sissinghurst visitors have proved him wrong.

Perhaps it takes a foreigner to restore the romance. Pedro Sorela's A View From Abroad (R4) was really rosy. He even seemed to enjoy drinking Bristol Cream in the interests of savouring a taste of the city from which Jim Hawkins set sail for Treasure Island. It is fascinating to see us, in this series, as others do. The myths and legends of our inglorious past are so potent that a Spaniard can be fobbed off with British sherry and seem to enjoy the experience. But then the British, for Sorela, are exemplified by pedlars of dreams - by Stevenson, Orwell, Huxley, Waugh and, um, Enid Blyton.

Possibly searching now for Little Noddy, he came across a couple of hardened cynics. There was our own Ian Jack who told him, with feeling, that editors are there one minute and gone the next, and Harry Ritchie, who spoke of the fear and desire that apparently drive everyone to acquire more and more wealth. Money, Sorela reminded him serenely, can only ever be a leetle god.

Iain Burnside returned the compliment with A Spanish Jaunt (R3). Scarlatti is thought to have written most of his luminous piano sonatas while in Spain. A postcard from the similarly holidaying Burnside inspired Adrian Jack to write his own accessible, witty sonatas, full of subtle jokes and challenging techniques. The juxtaposition of the two provided an afternoon of inspiring delight, the perfect accompaniment to a dream of early summer.

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