An adaptation of Simon Gray’s 1979 stage play, Close of Play, Suffer the Little Children was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on the 29th August 1993. The cast was as follows:
DAISY – Sian Phillips
HENRY – Clive Francis
MARGARET – Jennifer Hilary
JENNY – Caroline Mortimer
MARIANNE – Angela Pleasence
JASPER – David Sinclair
BENEDICT – Steve Hodson
MATTHEW – Ross Livingstone
YOUNG HENR – John Bowley
Produced by Jane Morgan
The Times review of Suffer The Little Children, 1st September 1993
Simon Gray’s play Suffer the Little Children (Radio 4, Sunday) is about such unhappy people it would cheer anybody up to hear it. No family chaos, you felt blithely, could be as bad as what these characters are suffering.
The family has gathered for Sunday afternoon tea at the house of grandfather Jasper, a retired professor who sings “Oh for the wings of a dove” to himself at the beginning and the end of the play, and never says another word.
He has had three sons. Two of them are there, exchanging cries of “Darling!” with their wives at every opportunity. But when they are alone with their silent, perhaps sleeping father, they take the chance to confess to him the terrible state they are in. Ben is a desperate alcoholic, who starts the day with whisky in his breakfast coffee and
suspects (correctly) that his novelist wife Maggie has been having an affair and hates him. Henry, who is a hopelessly inefficient doctor and knows it, has slipped into a feeble affair with a woman patient who is now about to expose him. Dick, the third brother, now dead, was the paragon of the family, or so both the other brothers fall over themselves to insist – but it slowly emerges that he was an utterly hateful character who stole money as a boy and other men’s wives as a man. There is a brilliant twist of the knife in the already bleeding wounds when young Matt, Dick’s son, steals money from Ben as he lies half-stupefied with a bottle of malt – and in that dazed moment
Ben realises that it was, in fact, Dick who stole Maggie from him.
This is just to disentangle a few of the lies, deceptions and self-deceptions that have this family in thrall. Around them bustles Nanty, Jasper’s distant cousin and housekeeper, sentimentalising everything, realising nothing, and full of a suppressed hatred of them all that comes out in a permanent headache. Nanty was splendidly played by Sian Phillips. Simon Gray’s art, one might say, is to invent headaches that drive away other people’s.