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The Len Continuum by Peter Strickland

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The Len Continuum by Peter Strickland. Dir. Strickland. Perf. Toby Jones, Belinda Stewart-Wilson, Tony Gardner. BBC Radio 4, 18 Jun. 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05y11vs

Set in the early 1980s, when sitcoms such as "Never the Twain" and police shows such as "Juliet Bravo" dominated a four-channel environment, "The Len Continuum" depicted the outer and inner lives of Len (Toby Jones), a struggling actor trying to survive in a hostile world, and being out-performed in career terms by his wife Alice (Belinda Stewart-Wilson). Despite regular prayers to God to bring bad luck on her (as well as anyone else preventing his personal advancement) Len remained out of work, while suffering from a chronic colon condition. Eventually he made an appointment to see a doctor (Tony Gardner), but discovered to his horror that the experience of being cured was more traumatic than he might have anticipated.

Peter Strickland's play contained a complex soundscape (by Eloise Whitmore) that used the sound of different snatches of radio programs, as if a dial were being twiddled on an old-fashioned transistor, to suggest the randomness of existence. Despite Len's attempts to control his present, he kept being haunted by the past - especially when he discovered that the doctor had been one year below him at school, and that Len had bullied him when a child. During the colonic operation, Len's imagination finally ran riot, taking over his conscious mind entirely, as he imagined his wife (a radio announcer by trade) offering traffic reports on his interior organs. This sounds rather surreal in prose, but in sonic terms Strickland used this moment to show the futility of trying to make sense of one's life. Alice's career progress, from announcer to newsreader, was nothing more than an illusion; as with her husband, she could be equally prone to unwanted mental intrusions by the unconscious, bringing up the past to haunt her present and future.

Such subjects might sound rather existential; in truth "The Len Continuum" was a blackly comic piece, re-imagining the relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds in a manner reminiscent of Dennis Potter's Eighties classic "The Singing Detective."