Talawa Stories: Pretty Little Thing – BBC Radio 4

Written by Roberta Livingston

Directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s a thief’s worst nightmare? Dogs, police, alarms, Macaulay Culkin? Or is it running into another thief whilst in the middle of a break-in? Willow and Nicole find themselves in the garden of No. 92, both with quite different intentions for this evening’s activities. They decide to help one another out, avoiding detection, but when they encounter the owner’s Nanny, they quickly begin to realise neither has been entirely truthful. But who would have thought it, two thieves, in the night, not being honest with one another?

The final episode of BBC Radio 4’s Talawa Stories, Pretty Little Thing draws the three-episode audio series to a close with Roberta Livingston’s strategically comical and warming piece. Speaking a lot on class issues prevalent in the UK, particularly in London and concerning women and the established system’s systemic attitudes to non-white communities, Pretty Little Thing manages to strike at the root of what precisely is vital to us.

In a dialogue piece, the conversational manner in which Willow (Jacoba Williams) and Nicole interact (Jocelyn Jee Esien) flows in a strikingly natural fashion. Reciting Livingston’s script with ease, the audio drama’s short length pushes the pair to forge an alliance of sorts early, but nothing feels forced. There’s genuine sincerity to Nicole’s efforts to teach Willow in the art of burglary, Jee Esien capturing the nature of a bond between two women, from different paths but with similar stories of regrets and let-downs.

With even less time to connect with the audience, Tuyen Doh’s place as Bian, the nanny, at first gives the illusion of a mere obstacle but brings in an additional element. Reinforcing previous themes, Doh’s pacing and rebuttals with Williams bring the two characters to loggerheads over the mansion’s most prized possession. It’s here where Livingston’s writing flourishes in semi-monologue pieces as Williams lays bare the pain and suffering without turning to crocodile tears of false empathy.

Distinctly, Livingston’s most crucial dagger is neatly aimed at a broken system, divisive and institutional, where those who slip through the (large) cracks are forced into heart-wrenching decisions. Beneath the comedic delivery and fast-building chemistry between the performers, the undercurrents in the narrative latch onto a deeper understanding of the struggles communities face. From small word patterns to quips relating to young black women’s hair routines and lack of choice, the more time spent under Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s direction, the more of Livingston’s script unravels.

Cunning and seldom highlighted to allow for a sense of world-building, Steve Bond’s sound design produces an atmospheric backing that enriches the tension of the situations, pulling back from the moments of humour to maintain momentum. But where the anxiety of being caught fades, there’s a moment where stakes needed an additional push, an extra minute or two to evolve the revelations at hand here.

Short, punchy and to the point, Precious Little Thing gradually becomes a treasure of a short play.

Broadcast at 2.15pm on 21 May 2021 and then available on BBC Sounds

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