Pat and Margaret by Victoria Wood, adapted by John Foley

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BBC Radio 4, 25 December 2010
Pat and Margaret originated as a BBC television film, telling the story of two long-lost sisters - Pat (a famous American television star modelled on Joan Collins), and Margaret, a northern lass frying chips on a motorway service station somewhere in the north of England. They are brought together on a television show, Magic Moments - a factionalized version of the old ITV series Surprise Surprise - only to discover that they have absolutely nothing in common. The ensuring action charts their gradual rapprochment, as Pat's shady past comes to light, while Margaret comes to learn the value of self-assertiveness. The two part close friends: Pat returns to her Los Angeles home with her mother Vera in tow, while Margaret leaves her lift of drudgery to manage the local cafe with boyfriend Jim.
The story has obviously been conceived with Wood and her long-time friend Julie Walters in mind, with the dumpy northern working-class lass contrasted with the pseudo-sophisticated television celebrity. They embody contrasting values: sincerity vs. artificiality; unsophistication vs. glamour; anonymity vs. celebrity. Such distinctions are easily punctured: Wood has been a celeb for many years now, despite her careful cultivation of an 'ordinary' star image.
In Marian Nancarrow's radio production the leading roles were played by Tracy-Ann Oberman (Pat) and Sarah Lancashire (Margaret). As befits someone who played Joan Crawford in a radio play earlier in 2010, Oberman came across as a bully, trying to compensate for her modest upbringing by treating everyone else with contempt. Lancashire's performance was strongly reminiscent of her best-known television role as Raquel in Coronation Street - a spirited girl making the best of her limited opportunities, while retaining her basic generosity of spirit. The two actresses made it obvious that they had nothing in common, despite being sisters.
The remainder of the cast coped well with sketchily written roles, conforming to established media stereotypes. Andrew Dunn's Jim was a typically blunt northern lad, short on education but ever ready to speak his mind. His mother (Thelma Barlow) was concerned to sustain a social facade, while remaining determined to keep her son under her thumb. Pat's press officer Claire (Claire Skinner) spouted mediatic cliches at any and every opportunity interspersed with the ubiquitous word "sorry!"; while Stella (Joanna Monro), a campaiging journalist on a tabloid newspaper, resented everything about northern life, expressing a continual desire to return to London as soon as possible.
Pat and Margaret was an enjoyable slab of middlebrow entertainment, full of good one-liners and a feelgood ending. It doesn't pretend to say much about contemporary Britain, but it offered ninety minutes of agreeable listening.