The adaptation of Love Virtually by Austrian novelist Daniel Glattauer was the Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon, raising interesting questions about the nature of love and relationships in this modern cyber age. Can we fall in love with someone we have never met? Is a love affair online still adultery? How much do we really know about the people we talk to through cyberspace?
Emmi (Emilia Fox) and Leo (David Tennant) ‘meet’ online when her emails to a local magazine go astray and out of their ensuing correspondence they build an online relationship which blossoms into romance. The epistolary style of the novel, written entirely in the form of messages between the protagonists cries out to be dramatised and works particularly well as an audio piece. Through the course of the drama we hear how both Leo and Emmi have their curiosity about one another piqued and from that curiosity comes a developing trust and disclosure but at the same time an initial wariness and a consciousness that they are, after all, strangers. Through the in-jokes and banter their relationship develops but both are surprised when they realise what their correspondence has actually become.
The casting is perfect. Emilia Fox is just right as the breathy, teasing, romantic Emmi who, at once, flirts with and teases Leo and at the same time is upfront and frank about her own marriage. David Tennant plays a cynical Leo, a glass of wine often to hand, hurt by events of the past, sardonic in the face of Emmi’s hasty assumptions, in turn passionate and cautious. Audio drama requires a particular skill of an actor to pitch just the right amount of nuance to the voice to compensate for the lack of visual cues: hard enough with a traditional script, but one made of a series of emails could run the risk of appearing flat and stilted when performed. No risk of that in this production. Both actors bring the conversations vividly to life, with the interaction flowing as naturally as though the participants were chatting over a café table. David Tennant, particularly, is a powerful audio performer who can wring a wealth of emotion out of just a few words with the merest subtlety of tone.
Obviously it was always going to be hard to cram all of the twists and detail of the full novel into a 45-minute drama, so there have been some harsh cuts from the storyline. This has meant the loss of some of the twists of the plot and a lot of the witty repartee between Leo and Emmi. However, it also accelerates the pace of the growing passion between the couple in a manner not experienced by the reader so that the sudden final twist becomes all the more jarring and brutal.
Love Virtually was written by Daniel Glattauer and translated from the original German by Jamie Bulloch and Katharina Bielenberg. It was adapted for radio by Eileen Horne and was a Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4, produced and directed by Clive Brill.
Daniel Glattauer has written a sequel to Love Virtually, already published in Germany and France, which will be published in the UK in August with the title Every Seventh Wave.