Transmitted as part of the BBC Radio 4 2018 Dangerous Visions season, Philip Palmer’s Speak presents itself as a dystopian love story. A few scenes in it becomes obvious it is that and much else besides.
On one level, it’s a story of older supervisor Clara (Pippa Haywood - Green Wing) takes advantage of a much younger employee Lucian (Andrew Gower - Outlander). As their relationship takes off, they fall in love but there is an imbalance. Not only is there an age and status gap, but Lucian is of a generation who speak Globish - a reduced version of English with only 1,500 words (and a real thing). Clara wants to share the language of poetry with Lucian, but in so doing learns that with words come thoughts, and with thoughts come actions.
The introduction of Globish is done with great skill. Early on Lucian interacts with an AI system and we soon realise his range of vocabulary and tone is almost that of the device he talks to. It’s very convincing: as our world becomes dependent on Siri or Alexa and their brethren, we may well learn to simplify how we speak to make it easy for them. Chilling indeed.
As the story progresses, a range of influences can be detected, from Pygmalion to 1984 and Animal Farm. Something sinister has happened to the world, and Lucian is our way of learning what and how.
The comparisons to the works of George Orwell are apt: had he lived today it would be easy to imagine the themes of Speak appearing in his works. The actors are well directed (James Robinson) and the story satisfying.
Speak is a thought-provoking two-hander, delivered with style and well worth the investment of 45 minutes listening time. Another great advert for the Dangerous Vision season.
SPEAK (DANGEROUS VISIONS) / AUTHOR: PHILIP PALMER / PUBLISHER: BBC CYMRU WALES / STARRING: PIPPA HAYWOOD, ANDREW GOWER / AVAILABLE ON BBC IPLAYER