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Reviewed: Assorted programmes on Radio 4 and Radio 3

Listening on a loop.

Assorted programmes
Radio 4 and Radio 3

From my sick bed, everything sounded suspiciously, lip-curlingly familiar. With the single exception of the actor Adrian Lester talking about playing Rosalind in As You Like It when he was 23 (Who Was Rosalind? 4pm, 18 February). After weeks of failing in rehearsals with Cheek by Jowl “pretending to be a girl” he realised that if he was actually “a girl like him” he would feel predominately flatchested, tall and insecure, and then he immediately found the crucial speed of the part. (Ted Hughes: “The real power of a play is never in the language – though the language might make it a powerful poem. The dramatic power is always in the action.”)

But surely familiar was the episode of The Essay on winter walks, with the writer Deborah Levy working her way up London’s Holloway Road in a thick snow pleasantly dulling passing petrol fumes. She considered the bygone journey taken by cattle and sheep down this road towards the meat markets of Smithfield (geese also made this journey on foot, their delicate feet coated in tar and sand as makeshift shoes). Levy described the first recorded deliberately frozen food, a chicken optimistically stuffed with snow 400 years ago by a man who then died of a cold before being able to fry up the winglets, which even fast-food naysayers have to admit are incontrovertibly from actual chickens and delicious, however down-in-the-beak.

Yes, this was familiar! Was this a repeat? A high and mighty exchange with the Radio 3 press office as soon as dawn broke sought reassurance that The Essay, the five-weekly late-night short monologues going since 2007, is not now leaning on repeats because of the cuts. (That’s approx 1,200 essays, I calculated through the night, Nancy Drewishly narrowing my eyes. Hmmmm, that’s a lot of potential repeats. This trend must be exposed!). Turns out that winter walks was not in fact a repeat, although next week’s series on the subject of insomnia is, and that there have always been repeats of The Essay, but they are not remotely on the increase. Always been repeats? I’ve never noticed a single one!

I only tell you this to assure you how alert your correspondent is as she sits on the sofa flicking between Magic FM and Radio 4 Extra (radio reviewing at its purest) wearing the profoundly inconvenienced expression of the hard at work.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The cheap food delusion