Frances: 'This is Radio Prague'.

Frances’s story is dark and very strange. It’s also one of the most important stories in the entire Trebus Project archive. Frances had a very poor short-term memory and few memories of what she did after 1974. She repeatedly draws from a handful of fragmented memories to construct narratives that make sense of ‘her imprisonment’ in care home. Each new narrative quickly - and painfully - falls apart as she tries to hold it together. Most of the memories she has available to make sense of her circumstance come from 1968/69; the year she worked for the Soviet controlled state radio in Czechoslovakia. Occasionally Frances thought she was making a radio broadcast from her room in the care home. She accuses her sister - who managed Frances’s move into care - of collaborating and colluding with the ‘enemy’. Frances suffered from terrifying hallucinations – the most frequent of which was a nightmare vision of Jan Palach; the student who set himself on fire to stir the public to protest against the Soviet occupation. Frances saw Palach ablaze, wearing her clothes and walking the care-home corridors. At times she seemed to confuse her story with those of other people including, her sister, Helen (a member of the resistance), Palach, and the burns doctor who treated him. According to the people that knew her at the time Frances wanted to be the sort of person who would have joined the resistance and put herself on the front line – unfortunately, like most of us, she wasn’t. As a result she found herself (perhaps retrospectively) on the wrong side – a collaborator - during the Prague Spring. Her story is layered with guilt mostly relating to things she did not do but now wishes she had. Frances spoke in a painfully slow whisper. Even though she struggled with extreme fatigue and drifted in an out of consciousness her intelligence and self-awareness shine through in a series of shockingly direct comments. There are many dead ends and few definite answers. It’s a tough and frequently harrowing piece, and certainly not for everyone, but worth listening to until the end. Kristin Milward gives another astonishing performance.