We Need to Talk About Kevin

by Anita Sullivan

adpated from the novel by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin book cover


Lionel Shriver's 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is a powerful, controversial novel about motherhood. Shortly before his sixteenth birthday Kevin Khatchadourian shoots dead eight class-mates, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. The novel is constructed from letters Kevin's mother Eva writes to her estranged husband Franklin. It debates whether nature or nuture is the strongest force shaping our destinies: "I am willing to accept responsibility. But with limits. To admit this is my fault and that is my fault but there -on the other side of the line- that, that is not." The novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

The novel was adapted into a ten-part drama for Radio 4 Women's Hour and broadcast in January 2008. It was produced by Karen Rose of Sweet Talk Productions, directed by Anita Sullivan. It was recorded and edited by David Thomas with sound design by John Thursfield. It starred Madeline Potter, Nathan Nolan and Richard Laing.

Duration: 10 x 14 minutes.


(Claverlack Youth Detention Centre, visitor room.)

EVA -OK, Kevin. Why Greer Ulanov?

KEVIN -She had buck teeth.

EVA -(Letter narrative.)Greer was into politics. Circulated a petition when Clinton was impeached.

EVA -Ziggy Randolf?

KEVIN -Ballet poof.

EVA -Ziggy was a dancer with a professional future.

EVA -Joshua Lukronsky?

KEVIN -Movie nerd.

EVA -He’s been brought on board the Miramax film, as a script consultant.

KEVIN -A dream come true.

EVA -Mouse Ferguson?

KEVIN -Computer geek.

EVA -Jeff Reeves?

KEVIN -Music snob.

EVA -Soweto Washington? The media assumed you chose him because he was black.

KEVIN -I kill nine kids, one’s of Negro persuasion and bingo, it’s a race crime.

EVA -Soweto was a basketball star. You shot him through both thighs, but left him alive. Why?

KEVIN -I made a mistake. Next?

EVA -Miguel Espinoza. Because he was Latino?

KEVIN -Because whenever he’d talk he’d try to throw in the word ‘echelon’.

EVA -Laura Woolford?

KEVIN -Did her a favour. First sign of a wrinkle she’d have killed herself anyway.

EVA -You shot Laura first. Through the heart. Was that what Thursday was about? Unrequited love?

KEVIN -Tell yourself that if you like.

EVA -I could tell everybody. There’s a journalist, Jack Marlin, very interested in ‘my side of the story’.

KEVIN -What did you care which girls I did and didn’t like before I whacked a couple? What did you care about anything that went on in my head until it got out?

EVA - You want me to feel sorry for you? Well first I’ll feel sorry for all those kids, their parents, my daughter and… everyone else you’ve damaged. Then maybe, maybe I’ll see if there’s any pity left for you.

(Kevin laughs. Eva storms across the room. Keys rattle, The door shuts behind her.)

EVA (Letter narrative)-It took a lot out of me. But I have my answer. He chose those particular kids because they were passionate about something. They had found a purpose to existence. And he hated them for it. Eva.


The serialisation was well previewed:

  • Pick of the Week The Radio Times
  • Pick of the Week The Daily Mail
  • Pick of the Week Radio 4
  • Pick of the Week The Independent
  • Pick of the Day The Guardian

However, as far as I'm aware we only got one press review (if anyone knows differently do get in touch).

"...Last week, everywhere, people have been discussing the Woman’s Hour drama, We Need To Talk About Kevin. When children walk in the room, voices drop. This is definitely one for parental guidance as it features a 16 year old boy who shoots seven of his classmates, his English teacher, oh and a cafeteria worker. “Maybe he cares more about food than I thought,” ponders his mother in one of the drama’s many moments of black humour. I had been stunned by the first five of its ten episodes and rushed out to buy the novel by Lionel Shriver... Anita Sullivan has adapted the long novel very well, plunging us straight into a shocking scene (which comes later in the book) when Eva visits Kevin in prison. His psychopathic tendencies bring out her combative humour. Then she recounts events before this brutish child landed in her happy marriage and wrecked it. Madeleine Potter could not be bettered as Eva - gritty and enquiring with a mordant wit, a victim herself who, even when she isn’t dodging the parents of the dead children, feels culpable. Eva may have reflected that we often invite into our lives the thing that will wreck it." The Stage Monday 14 January 2008 Moira Petty

The serialisation stimulated a massive response from the general public through the BBC messageboards. It generated one of the longest threads the BBC have ever had about a drama. Opinions were strongly divided and discussions got fairly heated. Debates ranged from truth vs reality, nature vs nurture, the responsibility of parenthood and the responsibility of an author to provide answers to the questions they pose. Here are a few of the more 'review' type postings:

"The novel is incredible, and I find it infuriating that this poor adaptation will probably put many people off reading it. Aside from the terrible acting, the music and "sound effects" are quite haphazard and really rather bizarre. The excellent writing has been poorly chopped about and scripted in a way which simply detracts from brilliance of the original story. I will not be listening to the conclusion to it and hope listeners will see beyond this short sighted interpretation." efjohnson (U10811248)

"This is a terrific serialisation in my view - chilling and disturbing yes, but brilliantly written and with an honesty that is all too rare in modern literature. I find the voices of Eva, her husband and Kevin are all perfectly cast for the respective roles, and the overall production is first rate.It's the first reading on R4 for a long time I've made a special point of listening to". spoken word (U2371238)

"My partner and I were hooked from the start and reorganised our evenings to make sure we never missed an episode! Well done the production team on a magnificent job; we too were caught out by the denoument and unlike some of the respondents can't wait to read the book. If it is better than this adaptation it will be a rare treat". alexboater (U10874024)

"This was an awesome production. Eva's voice was spot on - she sounded exactly like a resigned and somewhat jaded acquaintance of mine from New York. The spooky acoustics annoyed just enough to let you know that this was, in effect, a horror story, and clever use of the term 'estranged husband' in the continuity prologue kept the final revelation neatly under wraps. If I hear a more compelling serial in this slot this year I shall be very surprised." fourears (U5808585)

"I loved this serial. The actor's calm, unemotional voice made it even more chilling. I'd read the book, so the ending shouldn't have been a surprise, but hearing it made it more powerful." Annamieka (U10875482)

"Mine's another vote in favour of this outstanding adaptation. Radio drama at its best. Thank you, R4." thomastraherne (U7912524)

"I think the actress got it just right. She was perfect, that controlled voice but with an edge of sorrow and bitter regret. All the way through reading the book, I kept to her voice, it fit perfectly." Roxy (U3934048)

"I always enjoy BBC radio drama but really this has to be one one the worst they ever broadcast.The ugly yank accent was enough for any A1/B1 listener to switch off; it was simply monotone.Often it is easy to pick up the thread as we do from time to time with the Arches but this - it was was trying to digest double baked rye bread.I like many simply simply switched off the radio for this ugly transmission but I look forward to next week when we hopefully have something more Radio 4 related." offbeatgeezer (U10883831)

"We decided to have this as our next book for my book group on the strength of this serialisation. I hope it povides as much discussion as it has on the message board!" sockknitter (U10851271)



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