AUDIO REVIEW: LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS / AUTHOR: URSULA LE GUIN / ADAPTED BY: JUDITH ADAMS / PUBLISHER: BBC RADIO 4 / STARRING: KOBNA HOLDBROOK-SMITH, LESLEY SHARP, TOBY JONES, LOUISE BREARLY / BROADCAST DATE: 12TH APRIL, 19TH APRIL
As part of its Ursula Le Guin at 85 series, Radio 4 is presenting the first ever radio adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness over two hour long episodes.
Left Hand of Darkness is the story of Genly Ai (Holdbrook-Smith), an envoy from the collective worlds of humanity, known as the Ekumen as he makes first contact with the inhabitants of the planet Winter, called Gethen by its people. The planet is unique amongst all the worlds in that its inhabitants have no fixed gender, and only once a month do they adopt a male or female aspect as part of what they call kemmer. They regard Genly as the most shocking kind of pervert – someone whose gender is fixed and always in heat. The nature of sexuality is at the heart of much of this story and is never used as a gimmick.
The story centres on the friendship between Genly, Prime Minister Estraven (Sharp) and the machinations of local politics. Amid the harsh climate and periods of mistreatment, Genly and Estraven become close. The dramatization treads carefully around the moments when Estraven becomes female – until then Genly had labelled Estraven as (if anything) male. The performances evoke intense, unspoken and complex emotions, before moving on. There are many mythic elements as well, and Genly has a particular vulnerability – emissary from an advanced civilisation who visits without any weaponry or means to compel the inhabitants of Gethen to join the Ekumen.
Although the central pairing of Genly and Estraven drives much of the plot, there are many strong performances, including Louise Brearly’s Tibe (nemesis to both Genly and Estraven) and Toby Jones’s mad King Argaven. Full credit has to go to the casting and Judith Adams as the adapter.
This adaptation is a striking example of the power of audio to evoke images and emotion, and the whole team deserve credit for bring this classic of science fiction to a modern audience. If you’ve never read the original this is a must-listen opportunity and will be available (to UK audiences) on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
Further details can be found on the Radio 4 website.
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