Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
17 November 2016updated 03 Aug 2021 12:26pm

Therapy sessions on the radio remind me that really, we are all acting

Susie Orbach's In Therapy has turned from an oddity to a thrilling drama.

By Antonia Quirke

For the second series of In Therapy (weekdays, 12.04pm), the psychotherapist Susie Orbach continues to share sessions with clients in daily, 15-minute programmes. Each starts the same way: the doorbell ringing, Orbach answering, the client puffing up the stairs and settling in to the consulting room. Then begins the talking.

During the airing of the first series last year there was some confusion – a lack of clarity, perhaps – that these “clients” were in fact actors. It couldn’t be any other way, as no therapist would legitimately record such private exchanges.

Primed by Orbach on each character’s basic background and potential problems, what we hear is, in effect, an improvisation. While some listeners have said that this renders the programme little more than an interesting oddity – what exactly is the point of it all? – I find the project compelling. More than anything, it seems to examine (by powerful proxy) questions about performance. Teachers, lawyers, therapists, priests – actors all, to a certain extent.

I put this idea directly to Orbach, over the phone. Doesn’t she find herself, as an analyst, using the same lines, the same gestures and expressions, as an actor on a stage some months in to a long run? She found the question strange – possibly even a little offensive. When I asked her how she could sound so relaxed being recorded in such an unusual situation (and she does, hypnotically so), she answered: “It’s easy. The other person. The quiet of the room . . .” and trailed off.

“Real” or not, it’s all the same to her, and a serious business. Still, I find myself wondering about the character John, who has appeared twice now, and will feature again before the end of the current series. He’s a former union man whose secret affair with a Polish sex worker is collapsing over her admission that she loathed the former Polish president Lech Wałesa. Add to this the complication that John believes Susie is the one woman who might make him physically and emotionally happy in a life together outside the room, and what you have is great plot – with the therapist at its centre.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

I assume more series will follow. Like it or not, Orbach is now a de facto dramatist. 

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

This article appears in the 16 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump world