Radio review: Deeply personal drama that touches a chord

Nuala McCann

The Cairn Drama on 4

Sometimes a radio play catches you unawares … touches a chord.. and sees you pull up at the end of the journey and sit, engine idling, not wanting to leave the car, because you just want to hear how things end.

The Cairn was one of those.

It was set on the Kintyre Peninsula and followed two sisters who returned to their childhood home to scatter the ashes of their father.

Cuiridh mi clach air do charn is an ancient Scots Gaelic blessing: “I shall put a stone on your cairn.”

We are stone people here too – on the fireplace, at the corner of their stairs, we place stones we lifted on Connemara beaches and white stones from the Antrim coast.

Going through my mother's coats after she died, I came upon a white pebble, just right for a small hand… and treasured it.

So that this drama about so much more than scattering ashes – about childhood and trauma and misunderstanding and grief and love – felt deeply personal.

The idea was beautiful, the characters were well drawn and the resolution was heart warming – well recommended.

The actor Helen McCrory who died recently aged just 52 was incredibly private.

So much so that when she recorded Desert Island Discs during the pandemic in 2020, she apologised for a sore throat but said nothing about the possible reason behind it – her cancer. She had sworn her friends to privacy.

And that privacy was apparent in how carefully she chose her words or what to reveal about her – rightfully – private life.

She talked about an idyllic childhood in Africa and a bruising and unsuccessful audition at the Drama Centre in London. They told her to live a little and then come back – she went to Italy and returned, having set her heart on the Drama Centre.

This was heart aching to listen to, given her talent, her warmth and how brightly she shone as an actor – as Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders, as Anna Karenina, as Cherie Blair.

But her musical choices were oh so beautiful – from Bob Dylan to Miriam Makeba, the Specials and Grace Jones – and her luxury item was the Victoria and Albert Museum – so that she could continue to play, wearing all the jewels, all the costumes and swishing the samurai swords … which might come in handy to chop up the wood for building your desert island hut.

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