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Best of the weekend's radio & podcasts: The Merchant of Venice, Tina Turner on Graham Norton, Death in Ice Valley

Simon O'Hagan on Shakespeare set amid the financial crash, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and a 50-year-old Norwegian mystery

Published: Friday, 20th April 2018 at 6:56 pm

Contemporary settings for Shakespeare are now the norm. The National Theatre’s current production of Macbeth looks like something out of Mad Max. When the Bridge theatre in London staged Julius Caesar recently, characters wore combat fatigues and toted sub-machine guns. In an acclaimed Hamlet at the Almeida theatre in London last year, Hamlet’s father’s ghost was sighted on CCTV.


Now comes a Radio 3 production of The Merchant of Venice (Sunday 7.30pm) that sets the play in the City of London at the time of the 2008 financial crash. “The whole play is suffused with the language of trade and commerce,” producer Emma Harding explains. It’s a conceit that helps create a powerful immediacy, and the performances are outstanding, with Andrew Scott (Hamlet at the Almeida) intensely sympathetic as Shylock and Hayley Attwell beautifully poised as Portia.

By way of a foretaste of Merchant, Archive on 4 (Saturday, Radio 4, 8pm) is subtitled The Long Shadow of Canary Wharf, and it looks back 30 years to when the first tower went up, changing the landscape and the culture of London’s Isle of Dogs for ever. Presenter Jane Martinson grew up in an area that is now synonymous with global finance, and other locals are among the voices she has assembled.

If you prefer a more escapist Saturday evening, Radio 2 is broadcasting The Queen’s Birthday Party (8pm), live from the Albert Hall – Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, Craig David and Ladysmith Black Mambazo are among the performers — while at 6.30pm Radio 3 has the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Coraline, a version of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy tale put on by the Royal Opera House.

Radio 3 has a Japan season next week, and one of the ways it gets going on Saturday is with an edition of Between the Ears (9.30pm) that tells the story of a 1933 essay In Praise of Shadows, by Junichiro Tanizaki, that is considered a cornerstone of design thinking. There’s also a new strand on Radio 3 called Inside Music (1pm Saturday) — “Musicians offer an insider’s exploration of music” — and it kicks off with conductor Nicholas Collon opening up new aspects of Ravel, Bach and John Adams among others.

Under Sue MacGregor’s surest of hands, The Reunion never fails to deliver, and this Sunday’s edition (Radio 4, 11.15am) promises to be a compelling one as she looks back to the era of the Baader-Meinhof gang – the group of young revolutionaries who terrorised West Germany in the 1970s. Former gang member Peter Jurgen Boock is among her guests, along with former West German counter-terrorism chief Rainer Hofmeyer, radical lawyer Kurt Groenewold, and Stephan Aust, a journalist who covered the Baader-Meinhof story over the course of many years.

Radio 4’s The Food Programme (12.30pm Sunday) looks at salt; TV historian Lucy Worsley is the main guest on Radio 4’s Saturday Live (9am Saturday); Tina Turner is among Graham Norton’s guests (Saturday 10am Radio 2); and if you want to know what the new biographical show Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is like, it’s one of the topics under discussion in Radio 4’s Saturday Review (7.15pm Saturday).

Tina Turner: How will she get on with Graham? (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Sportswise it’s FA Cup semi-finals weekend and you can take your pick between Radio 5 Live’s coverage of the two games or Talksport’s. Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur kicks off at 5.15pm on Saturday and Chelsea v Southampton kicks off at 3pm on Sunday.

My Podcast of the Week is a new prestige production from the BBC World Service, in tandem with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). Episode one of Death in Ice Valley went up this week and it’s a gripping story that revisits the mysterious death of a woman whose badly burned body was found in a valley outside the Norwegian city of Bergen in 1970.


The voices telling the story are those of Norwegian investigative reporter Marit Higraff and the World Service’s Neil McCarthy, and it’s all meticulously paced and put together. Listeners are invited to contribute their own information as the story spreads beyond its initial locale. The case has long perplexed Norway — can a podcast help solve it?


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