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'Beyond Black' by Hilary Mantel

Updated: Jan 22

A disturbing, darkly comic 'Woman's Hour' serial asks what happens if suburban blight doesn't end after death.

"Alison Hart [Alison Steadman, image 1] is a professional medium, an awkward, obese, disorganised woman, but with a gift for empathy and a good platform technique. Her familiar spirits are figures from her chaotic childhood, principal among them a small, foul-mouthed circus performer with disgusting personal habits called Morris [Bill Wallis] who is her unpleasant and bitter spirit guide. To try and create some order in her messy existence she has taken on an assistant, the highly efficient but essentially heartless Colette [Rosie Cavaliero, image2], who, although she is a regular witness to Alison's gift, is nevertheless a profoundly sceptical companion. The two of them are bound together by a need that neither wants to recognize."

Archive.org


Originally broadcast March 1, 2010 in ten 15-minute installments on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, this production fails or succeeds largely on the expectations the listener brings to the experience. That's because the original 2005 Hilary Mantel novel of the same name is viewed by many as one of the most disturbing ghost stories of the 21st century. (There is actually an audiobook version, though at the moment it only appears to be available in the U.S. on CD. Quite frustrating, really.)


While this production does grow more unsettling as it goes along (particularly after Episode 6), its short running time seemed to require the scriptwriter to focus either on the novel's more disturbing aspects or its spot-on dark humor, and they went with the latter – and we're all the better for it.


Mantel, perhaps best known for her Wolf Hall historical novels, gives us two witty, deeply insightful character studies in Alison and Colette.


Steadman brilliantly captures Alison's weary unflappability (born of a childhood of abuse and neglect) with moments in which we hear the child she used to be quivering at the edges of her voice. The ubiquitous (and always welcome) Cavaliero gets the best lines and delivers them with the flinty determination of a woman fighting to jumpstart her romantic and professional lives. Though Wallis' whining-yet-menacing ghost Morris threatens to steal the show, it is the relationship between these two women that holds our attention throughout.


– Cast -

Alison ...... Alison Steadman Colette ...... Rosie Cavaliero Morris ...... Bill Wallis

Gavin ...... Mark Meadows Natasha/Renee ...... Adrienne O'Sullivan

Emmie ...... Katharine Rogers Keith ...... Simon Armstrong Mrs McGibbet/Maureen ...... Sheila Hannon Mrs Etchells ...... June Barrie

Mandy ...... Adrienne O'Sullivan Silvana ...... Jacqueline Tong

Aitkenside ...... Simon Armstrong

Mart ...... Malcolm Hamilton


- Director -

Sara Davies


- Original Air Date -

March 1, 2010


Availablity (As of Dec. 30, 2019): Archive.org

Further information

  • Podcast: Backlisted No. 59 {link

  • Newspaper: "Enfield, Where the Dead Go to Live" by Fay Weldon, The Guardian {link

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