BBC Radio 4, 31 December 2011
Appearing as a musical leitmotif throughout Pauline Harris's and Sharon Sephton's production, Dvorak's Humouresque emphasized the light-heartedness of the material. While taking a swipe at English snobberies - for example, the tendency to judge people by the number of titles they possess, or the clothes they wear - Mark Twain has great fun telling the tale of Henry Adams (Trevor White), a young American who becomes the subject of a £20,000 bet between two wealthy English gentlemen (Jonathan Keeble, Malcolm Raeburn).
Bryony Lavery's adaptation had great fun satirizing the gentlemen, who behaved like squabbling children, claiming that the bet would be "the easiest £5000 I ever made," which soon increased into "the easiest £20,000 I ever made." They rushed over to the window and yelled "me first!" as they competed with one another to see who could find the appropriate subject for the bet.
Initially Henry had not the first clue what they were talking about; he described the entire bet as "a near-sighted geriatric mistake." Once he understood its purpose, he settled quite happily into the role of a nouveaux-riche millionaire. He confided his thoughts in direct addresses to listeners, which became more and more confident in tone, as he realized just how easily he could exploit English prejudices. H occupied the Royal Suite in an exclusive London hotel, bought the best suits, and ate at Mrs. Harris's (Kathryn Hunt's) eating establishment, confident in the knowledge that he would never have to settle any bills. The fact that he carried a million pound banknote about his person was sufficient.
Lavery's adaptation had great fun with those who encountered Henry. Once the tailors realized they were dealing with "an eccentric millionaire," their attitude rapidly changed. They had treated him with disdain when he entered their establishment in rags; now they fawned over him, admiring his "tailoring perfection!" On a visit to the opera, Henry was observed through binoculars by three well-to-do patrons (Maximilan, Octavia and Julian), who excitedly claimed that they had at last seen "the breast-pocket millionaire!" However Henry's wealth did not give him automatic privileges; at a society ball he was told to wait by a supercilious Majordomo (Jonathan Keeble again), until all the titled aristocrats had made their entrances. In the privileged world of nineteenth century London, it seemed that class assumed more importance than money.
However Henry had the last laugh; at the end of the adaptation, when he re-encountered the two old men once again, he revealed that he had made £200,000 through astute investments. Financially speaking, he was the right kind of person to marry Portia Langham (Verity-May Henry), providing the old men with a suitable "advantage." Clearly capitalism had triumphed over class.
Harris's and Sephton's production was full of lovely moments: I especially liked the lengthy kisses between Henry and Portia. The first of these was prefaced by the phrase "next time, the lips!": as they were not yet married, they could not express their feelings too intimately. They fulfilled their desires in a second lengthy kiss at the end. This delightful adaptation play ended with the Majordomo reading out the credits, with Humouresque playing once again in the background, suggesting that everyone had been invited to a celebration of Henry and Portia's betrothal.