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Roadside recovery in On a Lost Highway

Atmospheric drama is a brilliant introduction to Radio 4’s new season

04 September, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Rakie Ayola

IN Ed Thomas’s atmospheric and lyrical drama, On a Lost Highway, Remi (Rakie Ayola) wakes up on a road with no memory of who she is or how she got there: “One side of my face is in the earth and the other side is looking up to the sky.”

As she lies there, her feet bleeding, various memories begin to surface which she attempts to follow through to their logical conclusion. She wants to explain why she’s there, but can’t find the words. She feels the taste of them “dying” in her mouth.

Slowly, voices, fragmented sounds and blurred memories come back to Remi. She remembers the road. She recalls Johnny Grecco (Ronan Summers), who made her feel good about herself. They would drink and get high together. She wanted to be a poet.

Remi describes taking cakes to a woman (Sian Phillips), who doesn’t recognise her. Their conversations meander, until one day Remi turns up and discovers the woman has died. Her house is being cleared. No one had told Remi of her mother’s death. Through a deliberately elusive, jumbled narrative we travel down the lost highway of Remi’s mind.

Gradually, we piece together the story of a lonely woman, drifting through life, desperate to be loved. Happy just to be seen.

Somehow, she falls through the cracks. Remi is “alone, unnoticed, unknown, unremarkable”. Until she meets another damaged soul, as adrift as she is, with tragic and brutal consequences.

Thomas’s script follows the rhythms and circuitous routes of memory, some leading to dead ends. After Remi declares: “I won’t be haunted anymore by a past that made me, but is no longer there,” a woman’s voice (Valene Kane) seduces her with the possibility of another future.

But is the stranger real or an illusion? Why is Remi lying in the road? Aided by James Robinson’s taut direction, Thomas keeps us guessing until the end.

On a Lost Highway is a brilliant introduction to Radio 4’s new drama season promising 12 original pieces from some of the best writers working in radio.

• BBC Radio 4, Saturday, 3pm

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