Lockdown theatre is here, and with it has come Joe Venable’s darkly funny new radio play, ‘Sorry for Your Loss’.
Introduced by Sam MacDonald’s mellow opening theme, Venable’s play lets us into the home of Dean Merchant (William Batty) and Lena Roberts (Amy Lever), a couple still very much unsettled by the loss of their adult son, Eric. It has only been three months since Eric’s death when a former classmate of his, Sam Woodburn (Ben Galvin), turns up on their doorstep. At first Dean and Lena are happy to reminisce with someone who knew Eric well, but Sam reveals a side to Eric that comes as a shock to his parents. Not as much of a shock, however, as what Sam wants to do in Eric’s memory.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Sam’s offer was enough to make me recoil into the sofa in disgust. It also involves an immense amount of money, sending Dean and Lena spinning into an ethical dilemma that threatens not only their son’s memory but the foundation of their marriage.
It’s strange reviewing theatre without having a visual memory of the staging – but in this case I feel I do, which is testament to Jenny Hay’s direction and editing and the cast’s vocal performances. It’s easy to picture Dean, Lena, and Sam sitting uncomfortably together, surrounded by Eric’s old trophies. Jonny Wiles’s well-meaning Reverend Martin ambles in at just the wrong moment, and if it was ever possible to convey palpable physical tension through audio, it happens here.
The vocal performances are outstanding, especially considering that the actors couldn’t be in the same room to record. Batty and Lever build a believable emotional rapport as Dean and Lena, caught between their affection for each other and the need to confront their financial problems. Galvin’s Sam couldn’t be more vocally different from the couple – the best way I can explain is that he sounded like he was sitting up perfectly straight, all the time, not blinking. And Wiles’s Reverend is simply a benevolent delight.
Venable’s story is simple, but satisfyingly insidious. My only real qualm is that I wish the play had been longer or part of a series, with more time for Dean and Lena’s characters to develop before Sam’s arrival. It’s commendable to be able to set up and execute a detailed tragedy in half an hour, as Venable has done, but I think had he allowed himself a slightly longer running time then the play’s climax could have been even more harrowing. If Venable wants to write more for these actors, I think he should. That opening theme was too good to use only once.