Nyama by David Pownall

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BBC Radio 4, 23 April 2010
A cautionary tale with distinct echoes of Moby Dick, Nyama took place in South Africa, and concerned Hudson, a money-crazy entrepreneur (Vincent Ebrahim), who transported a pickled whale taken out of the Cape of Good Hope around the country, making a fortune as he did so. Customers flocked to see the sight of this magnificent mammal, even though it gradually deteriorated - in spite of Hudson's best efforts to preserve it in formaldehyde.
The story unfolded in episodic form, told by multiple narrators: Hudson's ex-wife Arlene (Joanna Monro), an Oxford-educated bush hermit (Joseph Marcell). Through this device we understood how Nyama had different symbolic functions amongst the protagonists: a cash cow for Hudson, a beast of beauty for the hermit, and a potential relationship-destroyer for Arlene. Playwright Pownall also took a swipe at contemporary celebrity culture: Hudson was celebrated as a great innovator by the Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that he was making capital out of a corpse. However his values were shown to be ephemeral compared with the more permanent values associated with Nyama and its habitat in the Victoria Falls. Once the corpse had rotted, Hudson's life was ruined; but in keeping with his get-rich-quick ideology, he subsequently decided to set up a bank. This was clearly to remind us that, while the play was set in South Africa, it had a wider resonance. Hudson's ideology was precisely the same as that embraced by contemporary financiers who view life as nothing more than an excuse for personal profit, even if it destroys the natural environment as a result. The producer was Peter Kavanagh.