Burns and the Bankers by Helen Simpson, dramatized by Liz Lochhead

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BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Drama

BBC Radio 4, 25 January 2012
It's Burns Night, and a group of Scottish bankers based in London are holding their annual supper. Nicola Beaumont (Sophie Thompson), an English woman and her husband Charlie (Greg Wise) have been invited to participate in the celebrations. Nicola finds fault with just about everything - the food is tasteless, the rituals "weird and incomprehensible" - and makes her feelings plain in asides to the listeners. As the evening unfolds, however, so her attitude begins to change, as she discovers something about herself and her relationship to Charlie and her four children.
Liz Lochhead's dramatization of Helen Simpson's short story contrasted Nicola's English sang-froid with the community spirit and affability of her Scottish hosts. They were more than happy to acknowledge her as one of their own, but she was determined to remain aloof. She derived little pleasure in listening to her fellow-guest Donald Forfar (Peter Forbes) quoting Burns from memory, and resented the homespun wisdom of the stay-at-home mum Susan Buchanan (Angela Darcy), who believed that women should try at all costs to stay at home and look after their children. Nicola assumed it was perfectly feasible to work full-time and be a good parent. Thus it was not surprising that, at one point during the evening, one of the Scots guests described her as "hard-hearted."
As she listened to the speeches, one given by Professor Sydney Campbell-Douglas (Siobhan Redmond), the other by Gemma Goodman (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), so Nicola's opinions began to change, as she came to understand why Robert Burns remained so significant over two centuries after his premature death in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven. By the end of the evening, as she poured her drunken husband into a taxi, she was singing the first line of the Scots ballad "Charlie is my Darling."
Recorded at London's Caledonian Club, Burns and the Bankers made some sharp comic points about the absurdities of the Burns suppers, with their time-honoured rituals and interminable speeches. The play took pot-shots at other targets - for example Nicola herself, who was so wrapped up in herself and her successful career that she failed to perceive her inadequacies as a mother. On the other hand dramatist Lochhead emphasized the importance of the occasion, where people gathered not just to celebrate Burns, but to cast aside their differences (national, social or gender) and rediscover community values.
Directed by Amber Barnfather, Burns and the Bankers was a warm-hearted celebration of an important tradition in the Scottish calendar.