BBC Radio 7, 16 November 2009
Jeremy Mortimer's production, set in the London of the early 1930s, vividly captured the impatience felt by many members of the middle class at that time. In a world undergoing profound change, where Soviet Russia was in the midst of its five-year plans, Germany was undergoing a radical transformation under Hitler, and young radicals were dreaming of fighting in the Spanish Civil War, the nine-to-five life seemed especially unattractive. This was certainly the case with Gordon Comstock (Jonathan Tafler) who leaves his job as an advertising copywriter to embrace poverty, in the belief that this is a more 'natural' means of existence. He rejects help from his petit-bourgeois friend Ravelston (Valentine Pelka) - the very epitome of a champagne socialist professing concern for the working classes while returning each night to his expensive mansion - and instead leads a hand-to-mouth existence in the hope of becoming a poet. Eventually the ordeal proves too much for him, and he is forced to return to the agency, while marrying his long-time girlfriend Rosemary (Victoria Carling) and thereby promising to 'keep the aspidistra flying' - in other words, embrace one of the symbols of middle-class conformity.
In the novel Orwell satirizes middle-class life, as well as making fun of those who profess socialism while maintaining a bourgeois existence at home. True socialism will only come when everyone sets aside their trappings of wealth and learn to care for one another. In Mortimer's production, however, Comstock came across as supremely self-centred - a Jimmy-Porter like figure railing against life's injustices but lacking any sense of direction. His treatment of Rosemary was nothing if not shameful - complaining all the while about his misfortunes while remaining supremely indifferent to her state of mind. Rosemary had to retain a saint-like patience in an effort to maintain the relationship, and ultimately encourage Gordon towards the 'right' course of action - in other words, marriage, home and family.
The action of Keep the Aspidistra Flying unfolded in a series of episodes, each one designed to show Gordon's increasing sense of powerlessness. He might have disliked his middle-class life, but in truth he could not survive without it. Perhaps one needs to be imbued with a truly revolutionary spirit in order to initiate change; this is something which Gordon, as someone concerned with himself first and last, could never understand.