Radio Drama - Angela by Mark Ravenhill

Radio is the perfect medium for Mark Ravenhill’s autobiographical play about his mother Angela’s dementia. Aged 84, her memories come back to her in fragments, like a tape recording that has been spliced together in the wrong order.  

This perceptive drama tracks back and forth between Angela in old age (Pam Ferris), struggling to comprehend why her memories and mind are failing, her exuberant youthful self (Matti Houghton) and troubled early motherhood.

Mark’s parents were from working class backgrounds. He says: “I was particularly interested to explore the way culture high and low had impacted on Mum’s life and our lives as a family.” Born Rita, as a child she had insisted on being called Angela because she thought it sounded more refined.

Delightfully precocious, Angela writes poetry and joins the local amateur dramatics group. At a dance she meets Ted (Toby Jones). They fall in love, marry, but struggle to conceive.

Angela never really recovers from the miscarriage of their daughter. Following Mark’s birth, she suffers from post-natal depression and, later, migraines and a weak heart. Nevertheless, she remains fiercely protective of young Mark (Jackson Laing), supporting his love of drama, storytelling and dance.

During the onset of dementia in her eighties, her earlier loss comes back to haunt her. Older Angela is never quite sure if she is about to be visited by a daughter or her adult son (Joseph Millson).

Following a fall, Angela is hospitalised. She swiftly deteriorates and becomes convinced everyone is out to murder her, including Ted. Increasingly aggressive, Angela is sectioned and moved to a locked ward. As Mark, now in his fifties, deals with the loss of his mother’s mind, he takes up a life-long ambition to learn ballet and finds a kind of peace.

Directed by Polly Thomas, Angela is a devastating portrait of dementia; a world full of half-remembered or unfinished stories, dominated by fear, confusion, paranoia and hysteria. It is also utterly compelling and a fitting tribute to a fearless mother; obstinate, passionate and loving.

BBC Radio 3 Sun May 16 / BBC Sounds