Porshia (Radio Play)


My Set Up: Dumpstream through Mplayer to a RealMedia file, played through RealPlayer 11. Played over speakers for my wife and I to listen to, together.


Seeing as tomorrow, which would be September 11, 2008, is the last day that you can hear this play on the BBC Radio 4 Friday Afternoon Play website; it brings into question the common sense of writing a review. It's all well and good for me to say I like the thing, or hate the thing, but if you can't ever benefit from my words, then what good does it for me to put them out there? It is kind of like proclaiming a love of dodo bird meat, or saying that the summer of 1973 was quite swell. I'm mostly trying to get you to hear about the time I did something, experienced something, and what I thought, and you had best take my word for it.

The reasons I went ahead and decided what the hell as far as this review is concerned are two: I did quite like the thing and, secondly, you never know when something may surface again. In a year or two, BBC7 may pick it up, or maybe America's NPR, or any such thing. It could get shot into movie format, or have some odd sequel. Maybe this is just a way to say that sometimes things happen once in life, and then get repeated 18 months later, and that's it, though may personal belief is that this will be played again and possibly again, so that statement is all poppycock. Things happen as many times as they need to happen, and usually a bit more than that, if alcohol is involved.

The story is essentialy a member of the Vice Versa subgenre, whose best known example is, even more than the titular novel itself, Freaky Friday. The principle is the same: take someone who would be out of sorts as someone else and laugh as they become that someone else. In this case, we have Robert Webb, playing a bloke named Thomas who seems to mope, philosophize poetically, and suffers from casual psiorisis; and we have Laura Rogers, playing Porshia, who is the object of Thomas's affection, jokes with coworkers, smokes, has a boyfriend, and is presumably pretty. We do not know much about her, at least at the play's onset, because Thomas is smitten from afar. He watches her from across the room, or from his window as she takes a smoke break. Soon into the play, Thomas wakes up inside of the mind of Porshia, and begins to see her for who she really is.

The standard route is to choose an ironic one. Finding out what makes your crush tick is usually a storytelling excuse to bash a person, to make them real by making them more horrible than real, as bad as they seemed good. Ed Harris stays away from easy trope, though, and instead goes for a more nuanced ground, aided in part by the fact that Thomas is only the voice in the back of Porshia's head at first, only gaining more power as the story progresses. He is a passenger that is an act of introspection, and his infatuation continues with earnestness. Thomas muses about the first time you see someone when they aren't trying to tuck in their belly, or make themselves look pretty, when you see them nude in more ways than one, and how it is magnificent. As he sees Porshia's body through her own eyes, his love completely swells. Sure, Harris eeks out a few obvious jokes about Thomas being uncomfortable with men looking at her breasts - "They're mine!" he says - and, when the story gets to the climatic (yes, pun intended) sex scene around the middle, with a man experiencing sex as the woman he think he loves as she has sex with a guy he's never met, most of the careful nuance is driven out by hilarious lines delivered in that Robert Webb way. It is British existentialism at it's best.

Speaking, briefly, of Webb; Harris has given him several great lines. The humor is not constant, but there is a good amount contained within. It is varied enough to appeal to several types, but largely revolves around social concepts and gender differences.

On a technical level, there is not much to say besides the work is top notch. It is one of those things where, when done well, things seem barely done at all. Natural, in a sense. That is true here. Most of the sound effects just fit behind the voices, expanding them without even being obvious. Your mind picks them up and makes use of them, but is not distracted by them. The lines are all delivered nicely, with just the right amount of directionalism. Voices move about in space without becoming lost in the distance. The sex scene is a good example of all of these things. It is graphic enough to get the job done, without completely drowning out Webb's introspective horror as it occurs. The subtle addition of rubbing cloth and creak boards helps to build up the scene, but did not stand out as "obvious SFX".

I will leave the conclusion of the story mostly untold, to avoid spoiling much more, but it is interesting to note that Harris does not have Thomas explore Porshia but ultimately, instead, explore himself. It is not her that he questions, it is his own choices and life. I will say that I applauded, albeit quietly, at the end. It did not try and play itself off as clever, or as having a lot to say, but as a conversation starter that took itself serious enough to get it done, and it had fun doing it. It was a good way to spend an hour.


From Blech (worse) to Eh (median) to Great (best)

Pros: Great voice work, excellent sound effects from Alison McKenzie, intriguing storyline, unique in it's fun but still adult way of handling sex scenes.

Cons: None that I can think of, possibly (for some) the fact that the action takes back seat to Thomas's musings.

Final Summation: Fun, thoughtful, and adult. It has a enough one liners to make it easy to listen to it again, with enough depth to make it worth doing so. Definitely recommended, if you can find a copy.

One Last Fun Bit

As of right now (Sept 10, 2008), there is a making of video on Youtube. Among other things, it shows you what the sex scenes really looked like. For that reason, consider it not safe for work.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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