BBC Radio 4, 24 April - 1 May 2011
First published in 1838, Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities introduced audiences to a bold style of comic writing that became characteristic of works such as Dickens' Pickwick Papers.
Clive Brill's production evoked a world long passed, in which hunting was identified not only as an enjoyable pastime, but a ritual that drew people of different classes and generations together.
Constructed in the form of diary entries narrated by Doleful (Charles Edwards) to his friend Nash (Clive Swift), the narrative unfolded as a series of picaresque adventures involving the eponymous Jorrocks (Danny Webb), who negotiated his way through a series of scrapes, including saving Doleful from a grisly fate during a hunt. These were cross-class encounters: the working class Jorrocks working with the bourgeois Doleful.
However such distinctions did not matter during the hunt: everyone worked together to pursue and hopefully catch the fox. The fact that this sport has now been largely banned rendered this production more poignant: a neo-conservative yearning for a prelapsarian world in which everyone knew their place yet appreciated the social value of the hunt, a brief moment of misrule in an otherwise rigidly stratified world.
Brill's production ended with a climactic court-scene, with Jorrocks accused of initiating public disorder, as well as neglectting his social and familial duties. Initially it seemed as if he might be convicted, until Doleful intervened with a magnificent speech defending Jorrocks' way of life as fundamentally benevolent. Once he had concluded his performance, no jury would ever have convicted Jorrocks.
The action bore a strong resemblance to Edwardian comic tales such as Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, as it created a world of good fellowship, with the sound of people regularly toasting one another in the background. Nash proved a willing listener to Doleful's tales, occasionally emitting a loud guffaw at some of the more outrageous incidents. Jorrocks' Jaunts reminded me of the kind of tales told by habitues at a local pub during long summer evenings; they might seem preposterous, but they inevitably have happy endings designed to elicit laughter from audiences.
A satisfying romp, whose mood was sustained throughout by means of an ingenious choice of classic English songs such as "D'ye Ken John Peel," and "Champagne Charlie," both redolent of the Victorian era in which Surtees' work was set.