Episode 251 - The Spider and the Fly

July 4th, 2018 · 22 mins 50 secs

About this Episode

Benjamin Britten's 'Spider and the Fly' number from his Suite for "Johnson over Jordan", by J.B. Priestley, takes you by surprise. It sounds like Gershwin at the start, then becomes a kind of danse, and is ultimately sinister. The composer meant it like that, for he was drawn to Priestley's play because it concerns life after death; and Britten was interested in life after death during this period of his career.

Priestley broke an English taboo, you might say -- but it's a taboo in our country, also, in practice -- in his 1939 reflection on purgatory, and salvation, which he entitled "Johnson over Jordan". There is little in 20th Century theater to rival the third redemptive act of "Johnson over Jordan", except maybe "A Christmas Carol" from the century before.

What I hope to have underlined in this podcast is the play's decisive concern for universals. It was written and produced in the period right before World War II, but you'd never know it. Priestley is interested in the poignant memories and aspirations-to-love of an everyday person at the point of his (sudden) death -- and after death! As the 'Radio Times' reviewer wrote in 1965, when the play was revived on BBC television, "Priestley never allows himself to forget that wherever he takes us in the play, he is concerned with those
emotions and problems, loves, hates, and ideas which are mankind's common property."

Hear this: the world, under the aegis of Satan, is lying to the human race about what really matters. It's not politics (that really matters). It's not predicates (that really matter) relating to "identity", such as gender, skin color, race, or ethnicity. It's not even art (that really matters). What really matters is "those emotions and problems... which are mankind's common property."

Or, to quote Justin Hayward, who rounds out my cast, we are all pilgrims "On the Road to Love".