Richard Armitage in Clarissa. Just… Wow.

SinisterLovelace

This man. So sexy. So sinister.

Last week we had a nice discussion about Richard Armitage’s narration of The Chimes, and the topic of his performance in the BBC Radio adaptation of Clarissa came up in the comments section. For as long as I’ve been a fan of his narrations, I’ve been wanting to hear this production for myself, so I delved in 3 days later after finishing the audiobook I was listening to, and I have to say, if it weren’t for the Super Bowl, I’d likely have finished it in one sitting. Spoilers (and maybe triggers) below.

Since I haven’t read the 18th century novel, I can’t really judge how well it was adapted, or how well it captured the source material. I can say that I was riveted. Every performance, I thought, was outstanding. I guess I hadn’t really realized that it wasn’t actually a narration, but a collaborative dramatization with an entire cast. Tops was Richard Armitage as the villain Robert Lovelace. More on him later.

Some of the other standouts, for me, were:

Clarissa Harlow, portrayed by Zoe Waites. She managed to make the heroine sympathetic, which at least in my opinion, was a bit of a challenge. Not that I didn’t like Clarissa, because she was one of those people full of grace and kindness. However, she was so very virtuous, so naïve and often ineffectual, that she ran the risk of becoming ridiculous at times, especially to my modern sensibilities. There is a phrase for that in critiquing circles for the heroines of romance novels: TSTL (Too Stupid To Live)… and Clarissa was, literally, TSTL. Yes of course it was a different era, and perhaps there were circumstances explained in the novel that were not fully explained in the dramatization… but it seems to me that once she was well and truly “ruined”, even if her family had disowned her, she could have done something, anything, other than what she did do, which was essentially lay down and die. Yes, she fell into despondency, and who wouldn’t, after the despicable way her family treated her and the even more reprehensible actions of her tormentor, Lovelace? But damn it, Clarissa, there were other options! With her rigid morals, she had, if nothing else, a perfect temperament for entering a convent. She was educated. Perhaps her lovely friend might have helped her to create a new identity for herself and find work as a governess. I thought she had an inheritance… why not go to her property, take the reins, and live out her life as a modestly wealthy spinster? If all else failed, she might even have found it within herself to attempt to forgive the one who despoiled her, marry him, and make the best of things. I find it hard to believe that the tiger would have ever changed his stripes, but many men can, theoretically, be “managed” if nothing else. Instead, she essentially stopped eating and became weaker and weaker, then ill, then died.

Dorcas, the servant in the house of ill repute, portrayed by Lisa Hammond. Her performance was amazing leading up to the rape scene, when she was the one who gave Clarissa the milk laced with some type of tranquilizer. She clearly knew Lovelace’s dishonorable intentions, yet despite her obvious sympathy for the girl, she carried out her duties for fear of losing her situation or facing Lovelace’s wrath. Her voice during this scene, so detached and yet so shamed, really built the suspense for what was about to happen to Clarissa. Later, Dorcas was overcome with self-loathing for her part in Clarissa’s downfall, and made another outstanding performance of the moments leading up to Dorcas’ own suicide.

Allison Steadman, who played both Lady Harlow, Clarissa’s mother, and Mrs. Rawlings, who lived in the same boarding house as Clarissa where she’d fled to escape Lovelace’s clutches. As Lady Harlow, the performance was laugh-out-loud funny as she kept mispronouncing and confusing the word “libertine” as it applied to her daughter’s suitor. As Mrs. Rawlings, the performance was once again humorous as she first fell prey to Lovelace’s laughable explanations as to how he came to arrive at the boarding house wearing a false beard in the guise of a doddering old man, and why it was that Clarissa, his “wife”, was so dead set against seeing him! And later, when the cold-hearted snake convinced the heavy-set older woman to do her best to impersonate the young and beautiful Clarissa in order to intercept a letter that was supposed to be delivered only into Clarissa’s hands…

Mr. Solmes, portrayed by Steven Critchlow. As the middle-aged, gluttonous gobbler of cookies whose marriage settlements Clarissa’s family found so desirable as to force her into marriage despite her disgust of him, Solmes was quite convincingly loathsome, and most certainly made Robert Lovelace’s “gallantry” seem infinitely more desirable in episode 1.

sheismine

An absolute bastard.

And last, but never least… Richard Armitage as Robert Lovelace. I’m definitely biased, but wow! He was really quite amazing. Oh, his silky tones and the yearning in his voice as he pleaded with Clarissa to allow him to protect her! A rake, a scoundrel, a libertine… not necessarily the worst thing in the world when he looks and sounds like a fallen angel. I was well on my way to falling in love with him myself… even after he rather viciously engaged her impudent brother on the doorstep at swordpoint… right up until his snide and conniving tones were first revealed in his letter to his friend Jack.

That was like a bucket of ice water on my emerging lustful fantasies for Robert Lovelace. Even as he boasted of his deceptions, and repeatedly exposed his total lack of honor in his letters and in the conversations he would have with his confederates, refusing to ever say for sure whether he actually intended to follow through with his ardently professed desire to marry her, there would then be moments of such convincing and loving words and attentions that I would slip back into favor with him, only to smack myself moments later when he was again outside of Clarissa’s hearing.

The bastard’s motivations were very slippery for me to grasp. At times I thought Clarissa was nothing more than a game, a challenge to his ego, but there were other times when I’d wonder if he was truly searching for that elusive quality of virtue that he believed was lacking in the feminine soul. It was almost as if it was some twisted crucible of misfortune that part of him wanted to put her through, hoping that she would emerge untarnished and incorruptible, to reverse his misogynistic worldview, and somehow then love him. The other part of him, I think, wanted nothing less than to systematically dismantle that virtue, to make her turn to him, fallen and broken, so that he could then be the one to turn away in disgust, and destroy her.

He lied. He refused to listen to her. He spoke soulfully to her one minute, then intimidated her the next. He cut her off from all communication and created elaborate subterfuges to lead her along his path, he forced his amorous attentions upon her, and then relentlessly pursued her when she ran from him. He was an 18th century stalker and charming sociopath, easily convincing even well-intentioned bystanders that she was a flighty and mentally unstable wife rather than his helpless quarry. And then he drugged her, and raped her.

Whew. As much as my psyche recoiled from Lovelace during the totally nonconsensual intercourse, if I’m honest, his voice still managed to turn me on. And that was almost as alarming as anything I heard. I thought the scene was written well, and oh man, Armitage delivered it masterfully.  From the malevolent tones in which he addressed Dorcas before she left the room, to the tender words and shushes spoken to a drugged yet weeping Clarissa, swiftly transitioning into that low, sharp insistence that she tell him she is willing. Then low, guttural tones, as he repeats the word “Mine!” and penetrates her. I was tremendously disturbed and emotional after this scene, and had to take a break. There is a prevailing theory that rape is not so much about sex and lust as it is about power, control and dominance. And this was the essence of the performance delivered with hot and cold precision by Armitage.

I liked the ending, but would have greatly preferred it if Lovelace had sought his death while Clarissa found both peace and the strength to move on. She did remain true to herself, but I would have rather seen her create a “new” self. As to Robert Lovelace, I’m still not sure that even in seeking his own destruction, Robert Lovelace showed true repentance. Did he really seek redemption, and offer his life as atonement… or did his disastrous obsession merely compel him to pursue Clarissa beyond the grave?

Still thinking about that two days later… and that’s the proof of a moving performance.

 

 

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39 comments

  1. Buffy Brinkley · February 9, 2016

    Sounds absolutely riveting! Thanks for sharing your critique. It is likely the closest I’ll ever come to hearing the dramatization myself. 😊

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  2. Helen · February 10, 2016

    I managed to hear this through the BBC site about a year ago (haven’t checked if it still available there but they are making more and more stuff available to download). I agree with everything you say – riveting, disturbing, and you know you wouldn’t have stood a chance of escaping Lovelace when he turned that voice on. Though I also agree with you, I would have tried to make it a different ending 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      I checked last week… it’s not currently available. But according to Linnet’s post (linked below in comments) they did air it again in Jan. 2015 so it’s conceivable they might make it available periodically. And yeah, one can completely understand how she first fell into his spider’s web… he was entirely convincing as the love-struck suitor and soooo sexy and appealing when he showed that face. Unfortunately it was only one of many faces! What a cruel man. Armitage was perfect. It was hard to believe how many times I was actually frusterated with poor Clarissa for rigidly shunning him at every turn, even though I KNEW she was reading him clearly!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. linnetmoss · February 10, 2016

    Loved reading your thoughts on this. It’s a challenging story because he IS very sexy and he’s also a horrible villain. Clarissa meanwhile can lose the sympathy of the reader/listener, but I thought the acting on all sides made the most of the characters. My review here, with a couple of sound clips: http://linnetmoss.com/2015/01/01/samuel-richardsons-clarissa-2010/

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    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      Yes- excellent review. I think when you first posted it I avoided reading your review because I was going to listen first… but then the BBC player was not compatible with my system and I couldn’t get access to it. I never read your review until last night when I stumbled across it in a Google search trying to find out if there were any working mp3 links (other than the short excerpts) for Buffy. Anyway, I read your review right before you posted the link here and thought it was wonderful. It was interesting that the novel was written as an epistolary style… I had wondered if the letters in the script for the adaptation were a construct of the playwright to show what was really going on with Lovelace, but now I know those letters probably were closer to the source material than the rest of the dialogue. I love how you pointed out that Mrs. Harlow’s character likely influenced Jane Austen when she created Mrs. Bennett! I remember I was reminded of Austen’s humor during those silly speeches of hers! And you wrote “And Clarissa’s impossibly virtuous nature works against her, for she is so inflexible and rigid in her integrity that we feel a tiny reflexive sympathy for Lovelace.” Nailed it! It was hard to pinpoint why I kept wishing she’d just stop protesting so much and see where it went, despite knowing that he lacked all honor! =)

      Liked by 2 people

      • linnetmoss · February 10, 2016

        Thank you! I thought your assessments of each character were spot on. The actress who played Dorcas was especially striking. There’s no getting around the fact that Lovelace rather than Clarissa is the “star” of the book. It’s disturbing to experience how magnetically attractive he is, and yet how utterly selfish and evil. Thought-provoking!

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        • jholland · February 10, 2016

          Yes… I experienced the same thing watching him as Dolarhyde… and Lovelace wasn’t *quite* as bad as that one! RA was able to keep just the right amount of nuance to make him not the one-dimensional villain, and give you little tugs of sympathy for him, and bigger tugs of attraction.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Servetus · February 10, 2016

    If it’s still on the BBC site, you can probably listen to it through a VPN or a proxy network — there’s a good plugin for Firefox called ZenMate.

    At the time this came it out (it was one of the first things, if not the first thing, that fans worldwide could consume simultaneously in real time broadcast, so it was a big deal) the reactions were really mixed — including some people (victims of rape) saying that his performance was triggering. I think it’s a very effective performance but it is definitely not going to be everyone’s thing. There was also some discussion at the time (as there seems to be every time this happens) about whether fans were willing to tolerate him as “not the hero”.

    Probably 90% of the audience would consider the performance better than the novel (which is incredibly long), unless one is a fan of the eighteenth century novel, or Richardson, as such. The play was certainly much much shorter!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      OK, the ZenMate thing might have been useful to me. It’s not available on the BBC site at the moment, but the last time it was (Jan 2015) I couldn’t get it to work anyway.

      I bet that was quite a fun thing, kind of like the excitement of the weekly Hannibal installments. I can well imagine that the reactions were similarly mixed, as they were with Hannibal. Of course, Dolarhyde took villainy to a different level, but there were still triggers with the Hannibal material and the same situation of embracing or not embracing a true villain. Definitely not going to be everyone’s thing, Clarissa OR Hannibal, but both very worthy performances on RA’s part.

      After reading Linnet’s review, I’m almost tempted to tackle that novel, but since I almost never read anything unless in audio format, I’m afraid I’d be wishing it was RA narrating now that I’m so impressed with his Lovelace. =)

      I also went back and found your reviews after listening… well done! I still need to peruse those comment sections…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Servetus · February 10, 2016

    It was on my comps list for my doctorate — that’s why I read it. It wasn’t bad. I didn’t love it, either. It’s just really, really long. … long … long …

    Liked by 1 person

    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      Apparently I can and will do long, long, long. But it helps if RA is narrating. =)

      Like

  6. Guylty · February 10, 2016

    Really interesting review, J, thanks. I have not listened to Clarissa – am not even sure now whether I want to, considering that Lovelace is apparently such a devil – but I enjoyed learning from you what the (audio)book is all about. Have to say, though, that I would be very curious to see how Armitage fares in an audio play, i.e. collaborating with other narrators. I’ll check out those links.

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    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      He fares well. Really, REALLY well. Damn him. Devil is right. I hope you’ll give it a try… I’d love to hear your impressions.

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  7. Mimi Cruz · February 10, 2016

    Thank you for this write up. I too have enjoyed this particular BBC production.

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    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      RA was as always, fantastic!! I’d love to hear another such production, an audio dramatization by an ensemble with RA’s participation. Fabulous!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jane Denton · February 10, 2016

    It’s very well done and RA is devilishly good!

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    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      Hello Jane, and welcome to commenting! Devilishly good is exactly right!!

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  9. Hariclea · February 10, 2016

    Oh i am glad you got round to listening to it, interesting impressions and not unexpected 🙂 I started it when it was live but due to timing of airing didn’t manage to finish and it dropped off my radar a bit. I do have the audio though 😉
    It’s not an audiobook, it was part of the extensive seasons of BBC radio drama 🙂 I like audible a lot but it is not like they invented the listening of narrations and plays 😉 At least round here the tradition has been alive a lot longer and thankfully still is.
    Sadly the BBC is the only one left producing radio drama in the UK, but it is a very popular genre, there is a quite a bit of it and it is very popular with actors. And it is obviously easier to get famous actors to do audio work rather than drama, a bit less expensive and easier to schedule. Happy and proud to say it more alive than ever and all the big names do it. I can’t wait for this season’s Shakespeares among other things.
    Just to give a small idea, here’s the not completely up to date list of things DT has for example recorded:
    http://www.david-tennant.com/#!complete-audio-guide/cehi i loved Love virtually 🙂
    And there was this utterly creepy adaptation http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06k9bz9 chills! i really find audio horror much scarier than visual one i have to say. Which is why i need to push myself to finish Clarissa 🙂
    It breaks my heart that R and we at the same time loose out on interesting stuff he could do in radio drama 😦

    Clarissa received a lot of praise when it aired and i bet he does the villain convincingly seductive and chillingly cruel at the same time. I had some reservations before seeing Hannibal about seeing him play evil. But my reservations are gone. As long as the story is interesting it will have something to say, even if not always comfortable things. But i’m fine with that, there may be things i’ll wish to avoid, but so far so good, thankfully. And it is always worth hearing or seeing his interpretation, he’ll make anything interesting and a good story great 🙂
    Just wish there was more and more variety of it…. sigh.
    And sometimes villains are more interesting and it certainly puts us in a more interesting position, fighting the effect of seduction and being hit even harder but the reality of the character, it was similar with Hannibal, wasn’t it 😉

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    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      Yes, I found it definitely similar with Hannibal in that I was asking myself WHY I was still fighting attraction to the character, who was very clearly a sociopath. Dolarhyde was a psychopath, Lovelace a sociopath… and though their crimes and motivations were different, Armitage was able to make each one a little bit relatable (and whether he tried to or not, sexy).

      Thanks for the links! I’ll check those out. It was refreshing to listen to an ensemble rather than a single narrator, and I’ve grown pretty fond of David Tennant, I have to admit. =)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariclea · February 11, 2016

        i like the fact that his interpretations don’t make them gratuitously evil, you always get a sense of the person being broken in some way or having suffered some terrible thing in their past. And it is hard not to like him 🙂 Which is why i find the acting so amazing, being able to take you from the gushing to a very dark place is quite something.
        I like DT too, he’s an amazing actor and he seems to like voice work too. Most stuff won’t be available online on the BBC site but some i can get 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Perry · February 10, 2016

    I feel exactly the same as you do – conflicted – about Lovelace vs. Richard Armitage acting Lovelace. Clarissa is one of the, if not the, most erotic work I think he’s done yet. I believe that Hariclea is referring to a film version starring Sean Bean as Lovelace, and in that, the sex scene was really brutal to watch. I thought Sean Bean was a less polished Lovelace – not so smooth, as Richard Armitage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jholland · February 10, 2016

      I wanted to watch the film version when I saw that a younger Sean Bean was in it. Couldn’t find it. As to RA acting Lovelace, he does have a talent for villains. For one who seems like such a caring and kind person, it’s amazing that he is able to portray the wicked ones to such chilling effect. All the more reason to love him as a performer, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perry · February 10, 2016

        I thought when I saw it, it was a streaming site in the US. There used to be at least half an hour of it on You Tube.

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  11. Esther · February 11, 2016

    Thanks for this! Sounds like a really interesting listen! I don’t really ‘do’ audiobooks and even I am tempted to listen now…

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    • jholland · February 11, 2016

      That’s just the thing… it was more like a theatrical production than a typical narration. I was entertained!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Guylty · February 12, 2016

    OMG! 8 minutes into Clarissa and I am totally, utterly HOOKED! This is a fantastic audio play, I love the voices, and I love how the interaction becomes visible before my eye (much more than it does when I am listening to an audio book). And Armitage, well, he’s absolutely stunning, of course. But all of them are acting rather than reading, and that is what I find so compelling about this. It makes me wonder how they did it. It must be very hard to act with the voice only, to have the action only happen in their heads while they are talking animatedly, fighting with swords, or courting… What a revelation this audio play is! Thanks for bringing it to my attention, J!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jholland · February 12, 2016

      Yes! I have listened to audiobooks with more than one narrator, but this isn’t really the same, because there aren’t any times when someone is narrating the setting or the physical descriptions- it really is an ensemble performance and relies just on dialogue, first person letters, and a few audible cues/background noises… this type of theatre is something I haven’t really experienced before, but just love! RA is an amazing narrator, and narration of a book IS a form of performance, but this is an entirely different type of performance- something I wish he’d revisit in his spare time. A few more of these, please! I, too, was wondering if they were all sitting there reading the lines, or if they were up and about, moving about the room on an imaginary stage as this was recorded…

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      • Guylty · February 12, 2016

        Just to agree with you – a narrated audio book is a performance with acted elements, too, of course. I didn’t mean to imply that Armitage’s narrated audio books were not acted in that fantastic way of his.
        I am half-way through part 2, and I am still clinging somewhat to the belief that Lovelace is “love LACE” not “loveless”, i.e. that he genuinely loves Clarissa, the “sport” of getting her to submit to him/marry him only a by-product of his genuine pursuit. But as is always the case when Armitage acts *any* character, I am completely biased because I simply root for any character that is performed by him. Or I am possibly unable to separate reality from fiction, the actor from the character. I know from reading your review that there will be scenes coming up when it will become entirely clear that Lovelace bears malicious intent.
        As for Clarrie herself – I am (due to my own inability to make a distinction between the voice and appearance of Armitage and the voice of Lovelace) astounded that she is holding out so virtuously against him. My will and virtue would be much weaker – especially when faced with a man who is supposedly most handsome, and who seems to be pursuing me with such passion. But maybe she is just cleverer than me, sensing the darkness in Lovelace. And despite their despicable behaviour towards her, she has stronger ties to her family than I possibly have. Not to mention the times and mores. She is painfully aware that she cannot really influence her standing in society but is entirely dependent on the judgment of her family and friends.
        At this stage, I am rooting for both characters – for Clarrie to find love with Lovelace, and for Lovelace to give up his game and to allow genuine love for Clarissa to soothe the wounds that a previous lover inflicted upon him. Futile hopes on my part… I know.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Uinonah72 · February 12, 2016

    Wow, that discussion of audio plays reminds me how almost 30 years ago my cousin’s british husband recorded the radio play “The Eagle has Landed” for me on several audio cassettes (remember them?;-) ). I used to listen to that play countless times. In the last years I was a happy listener to the Torchwood radio plays. Since the series was not produced any more as a fan I was glad to be given the radio plays with the original cast. It felt almost like watching an episode of the series.
    As for Clarissa, I liked the audio play, but kept comparing it with the mini series with Sean Bean. And to be honest I never liked the characters very much…. Clarissa being too stupid and rigid, like you said, and Lovelace… well I could never figure out why he was so evil and I have to admit that I felt more sympathy for Dolarhyde in the end *blush*
    Nevertheless it was acted superbly! 🙂

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    • jholland · February 12, 2016

      Yes, I think I have stumbled across a new form of performing arts, thanks to RA. I think I’ll check out some of Hari’s recommendations above! Did you like the Sean Bean mini-series? (Aside from disliking the characters- was it well done?)

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      • Uinonah72 · February 14, 2016

        Yes I think it was well done although the rape scene was hard to watch. For me that was harder than any grisly, bloody scene from Hannibal because it felt more realistic. And I will go and check out some of Hari’s recommendations, too. David Tennant sounds tempting 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • jaydee09 · February 15, 2016

        It’s very well done – for its time. I saw it when it was originally shown and it gripped me although I almost couldn’t watch the rape scene. At the time, I enjoyed Sean Bean’s performance. But, the whole thing is up on YT and, watching it again, I find SB’s accent distracting: he just can’t get rid of those Yorkshire intonations and he just doesn’t sound posh/aristocratic enough.

        RA is brilliant in the radio drama . I listened as it played on the radio – and then found it so sexy and disturbing that I’ve never been able to listen to it again.

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        • jholland · February 15, 2016

          Oh, thanks jaydee! I’ll have to look for the SB version on YouTube. And I fully agree, it was disturbing enough on the content, but the fact that Lovelace was still alluring, even knowing what we knew, was the most disturbing aspect,

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  14. Mezz · February 17, 2016

    Thank you for your interesting review, so much of what you wrote echoes my thoughts, although it has been a while since I’ve listened to Clarissa. It’s one of those productions I’ve listened to in the car, but unlike Heyer, it’s not one I revisit all that often, it’s such a depressing story. As much as I love RA’s solo narrations, there is something special about him working with an ensemble as he does here. He does a superb job of hooking and reeling us in as Lovelace, and I would find myself desperately hoping he would show even just one redeeming feature, long after his character was truly exposed for what it was through his letters to Jack. Clarissa’s character just irritated me right through the whole play, I wanted her to show a bit of backbone. I tracked down the Sean Bean version after listening to the radio play, but one viewing was more than enough for me. I much prefer the radio play and will follow up Hariclea’s suggestions if I can. It seems some of the BBC radio plays find their way onto CD, as I have not long finished BBC Radio 4’s Pride and Prejudice which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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    • jholland · February 17, 2016

      Oh, I need to get my hands on that P&P radio play! I’ve been starting to feel the old P&P craving come on in the past couple of weeks! Like you, I found the fact that this was an ensemble really intriguing and different from RA’s other audio work. I really hope he is offered more opportunities to perform in these and will find the time to do so in the future. (I know that one of Hari’s radio play suggestions, the David Tennant “Love Virtually” is available right now, for maybe 3 more weeks, on the BBC website and several others have enjoyed it.) I wasn’t so much irritated with Clarissa as exasperated. At one point, she did verbally lash out, after the rape had occurred, and I was hoping that this would be a turning point for her, but then she receded again into the hopeless/helpless victim. Sigh.

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