BBC Radio 4, 22 March 2011
Barry Fox (Roger Allam) has got problems. A hard-drinking columnist
for a fictional redtop, he lives alone in a Chelsea flat, quaffing two glasses of red wine and an egg on toast in a local
wine-bar as a prelude to the serious alcoholic business of each day. His ex-wife Andrea has unexpectedly passed
away; and somewhat reluctantly Barry has to attend the funeral, together with Andrea's partner Nigel (Nigel Planer), who
represents everything Barry abhors - modesty, magnanimity and moderation.
Nigel Planer's drama - his first for radio - dealt in magnificent stereotypes. Barry
was the archetypal boor, the kind of person blessed with the ability to alienate everyone around him in minutes.
His imagination ascended to rhetorical flights of fancy, but like Jimmy Porter in Osborne's Look Back in Anger he
used it solely for destructive purposes. He was the typical Angry Young Man grown old. Roger Allam thoroughly enjoyed
himself delivering Planer's lines, but I felt that his character was sketchily drawn, bereft of light and shade.
The Magnificent Andrea grew more and more sentimental as it progressed.
We were led to believe that Barry and Nigel shared a common sense of loss at Andrea's passing - although dominating both of
them, she had a basic joie de vivre. Following a mild heart attack, Barry came to stay with Nigel and,
in a supreme act of homage to his wife, began to make a collage. When the two were married, Barry had despised his wife's
artistic talent; now he apparently understood precisely what she was trying to do. The play concluded with an idealized image
of male bonding, with Barry working happily away on his college, and Nigel preparing a healthy dinner of the kind Barry would
have once despised.
This change of tone brought the play to a satisfactory denouement,
but felt implausible: despite his illness, it seemed scarcely credible that Barry would have submitted himself so willingly
to Nigel's domestic regime, or sacrificed his career as a columnist for the artistic life. The Magnificent Andrea could
only have been written by a man, with its curious blend of misogyny and mawkishness.