BBC Radio 4, 26 April - 7 May 2010
Set in London and Italy in the early 1960s, Chris Wallis' production admirably recaptured a lost world prior to the so-called 'Swinging Sixties' - a drab, rather colourless place of coffee-bars, fetes and miscellaneous social occasions, leavened only by the prospect of occasional trips abroad to romantic cities like Rome. Yet within this suburban world - located on the wrong side of Kensington - appearances mattered: all the characters had to sustain a facade of respectability, even while working at the local public library. As the adaptation unfolded, we were introduced to a Mapp and Lucia-like world of suburbia where every nuance, every speech was subject to intense scrutiny. When Ianthe (Raquel Cassidy) eventually cast aside her inhibitions and married the younger library assistant John (Tom Andrews), the rest of her world was scandalized; not only was he significantly younger than her, but he lacked sufficient financial wherewithal to support her. However Ianthe had sufficient self-possession to understand that personal happiness mattered more than social respectability. Meanwhile her erstwhile lover Rupert (Ben Crowe), who always had a yen for her yet never knew how to express it, was left on the outside, as he embarked on another quest for love with Penelope (Sophie Thompson).
Presiding over this suburban reconstruction of La Ronde was Penelope Wilton as the narrator. Although well aware of her characters' foibles, she had sufficient magnanimity to view them indulgently; they were only trying - and mostly not succeeding - to find happiness in a drab and colourless world. When the protagonists experienced a bad patch, her voice became soft, almost confidential, as if she were finding it difficult to continue her story.
This production told an oft-repeated tale, but it revealed Pym's talent for observation - which is evident not only in her depiction of her characters' idiosyncrasies, but in her incredibly detailed description of their clothes. They might not have been able to purchase the latest in haute couture, but they made careful use of their modest budgets to ensure that they looked the part, wherever they were. This was what guaranteed their survival in their self-enclosed suburban world.