BBC Radio 4, 27 May 2009
The best ghost stories, it is often said, are those which defy rational explanation. Much ink has been spilled since the 1890s (when the story first appeared) on trying to work out 'the meaning' of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Is the governess actually plagued by ghosts, or are they merely products of her imagination? Some critics have sat firmly on the intellectual gence and accepted both versions, arguing all the while that James deliberately incorporates ambiguity into the tale.
Perhaps that's not the case at all; if the story is about the supernatural, why should the writer find it necessary to 'explain' it? This thesis provided the inspiration for A Warning to the Furious. Recorded on location in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, it told of an over-inquisitive television crew visiting the town to make a documentary on the author M.R.James. Led by an ambitious producer Karen (Lucy Robinson), it seemed that they would stop at nothing to uncover 'the truth' about the author and his motivations, even to the extent of conjuring up half-baked explanations about his 'real purpose' of writing. Invariably they focused on the idea of sexual frustration, repressed homosexuality, Oedipus complexes and bisexuality, depending on what Karen's state of mind might be at any given moment.
However Brooks gradually revealed how pathetically inadequate such explanations were. Using the device of an (unnamed) omniscient narrator, the Bookshop Man (Andrew Wincott), the play showed Karen and her camera crew encountering a series of unknown situations that they seemed less likely to explain, culminating in a ghastly encounter in a ruined graveyard, which finally prompted Karen and her assistant Zora (Catherine Shepherd), to give up their quest. On the way we learned that the Bookshop Man was a descendant of M.R.James, who might or might not exist. He certainly appeared as a tangible presence to Karen, but this might have formed part of an elaborate plan to scare her off.
A Warning to the Furious preached a familiar message; there are unknowable elements in the world, and that anyone seeking to discover them is doomed to fail. The location recording created a spooky ambience, the echoes of church interiors contrasting with the relentless plashing of the waves on grey spring days. The director was Fiona McAlpine.