One of the Family
by
John Petherbridge

 

First broadcast 31st August 1993 - BBC Radio 4

From a story by Zoë Fairbairns
Directed by Glyn Dearman

The Cast
Nathaniel Parker............Taffy
Sara Jane Derrick...........Emily
Jillie Meers....................Maureen
Vincent Brimble..............Alec
Bernadette Windsor........Hazel
Barry J Gordon...............Vet
Bonnie Hurren................Liz

 

Review of Play
Although this has to be the most unusual role Nat has played, I just love this fast-paced, lively and humorous thirty-minute play - although my first impression was more like, "What the...?!"

It's a slice of the life of a typical household; you know the sort - everyone leaving everything for someone else to deal with, doors constantly slamming, parents striving in vain to get everyone to pitch in and do things "as a family" - and squabbling, sniping siblings exchanging such pleasantries as:

"You're horrible. I hate you!" .. and.. "Shut up squirt." "Shut up yourself."

Nat's role in all this is that of Taffy, a Welsh Border collie puppy with a penchant for tearing, shredding and eating what he shouldn't... and messing wherever he pleases.

The very first time I listened, it was with a growing sense of incredulity as Nat proceeded to bark, pant and growl his way through the whole thing. Maybe this was one of those stories where, after ten minutes, the dog would start voicing his thoughts out loud? But no..!

Eldest daughter and budding writer Emily narrates her family's tale whilst bashing away in her room on her manual typewriter, attempting to work on her novel. With the Beverley Sisters' catchy "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?" being sung or thumped out on piano between scenes, she refuses to become involved with the new addition.

"He's nothing to do with me"

Poor Emily. She just wants to be left alone with her writing, instead of having to deal with more mundane matters (oh how I sympathise..).

Very soon The Thing, as Emily calls him, is up to mischief - well what do your family expect if they will ignore you?! After swallowing Emily's lunch and suffering from what looks to be terminal liver-sausage poisoning, Taffy is prescribed liquid paraffin twice a day.

"Over the next day and night he burped, puked and shat his way back to health."

All goes on much as before until Taffy, knowing that a so-called friend of Daddy's named Liz, is not one of 'his' family, bites her on the bottom and thus initiates his own premature demise....

Review of Nat's Performance
Although Nat doesn't utter a single word, with his high-pitched, frantic barking as Taffy hurls himself at the kitchen door in a vain attempt to be let out, growls as he tears the table-cloth to shreds, and whimpers before he breathes his last, Nat puts every bit as much into Taffy as he does with... Shakespeare.

So convincing a mimic is he that, in several places when I was so absorbed in the family's dialogue, I completely forgot I wasn't listening to a real dog and, being more a cat person myself, actually found the sound really irritating!

I was interested to see from the original manuscript, (kindly lent to me by Zoë Fairbairns and John Petherbridge), that Taffy actually had his own 'lines'. There were also several more unscripted sounds - right on cue, Nat would commence 'excited barking' as the door bell rang, or whenever the word "walk" was mentioned...

So...after my recovery from the shock that someone with a talent such as Nat has for portraying human (not forgetting, of course, fairy!) characters so skilfully and memorably, (and with arguably the most fabulous voice on the whole damn planet!) had impersonated a mere dog for a full thirty minutes, I came to appreciate that Nat was an absolute joy as the "horrible, snappy little runt" - Emily's words not mine!

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