BBC Radio 4, 13 April 2010
Does EastEnders have any links to Greek tragedy?
According to actor/director Barrie Rutter of the Northern Broadsides Theatre Company, absolutely not. This programme,
presented by Natalie Hughes, tried its best to prove him wrong. John Yorke of the BBC Drama department claimed that the soap
contained echoes of Greek tragedy - perhaps not conscious, but present nonetheless. They could be observed, for instance,
in the emphasis on families under threat or intergenerational change. Phil Redmond, the creator of Brookside,
claimed that the Liverpool-set soap had distinct echoes of Greek tragedy, particularly in its emphasis on sibling rivalry, domestic
violence and revenge. Such themes also emerged in EastEnders, especially in the storyline where Ronnie
discovers her long-lost daughter, only to see the girl die in front of her as a result of a car accident. Ronnie
lets out an elemental howl, which has distinct echoes of Medea. Other soaps - for example The Bill - have their roots
in the same play, as one character buries his child alive.
The programme subsequently looked at the work of the BBC writers' academy, which
focuses specifically on different types of drama, including Greek tragedy. This is designed to give aspiring writers some
idea of how stories are constructed, focusing in particular on characters' torments and on providing audiences with some kind
of cathartic experience. It is here, perhaps, where the most fruitful parallels lie; like soap, Greek tragedy is designed
to involve mass audiences in extra-ordinary, almost elemental stories. There is perhaps only one major difference between
the two art-forms; whereas Greek tragedy usually has a resolution, soap keeps going and going, providing viewers with
a succession of cliff-hangers.
One didn't necessarily have to agree with the programme's conclusions, but it nonetheless
offered a penetrating insight into how soaps are written. The producer was Phil Tinline.