BBC Radio 7, 21 April 2009
This elegaic play looks back on the life of Henry Troutbeck Barclay through
three generations. Old Henry (Paul Scofield) talks with Young Henry (Joe Roberts) and Middle Aged Henry (Alex Jennings) as
they look back on the protagonist's "little life," spent as editor of the local paper and husband to Fliss (Joanna David),
who expects little else from him other than companionship.
Mortimer looks back on Henry's life of missed opportunities - to move out of local
journalism to marry Mavis (Imelda Staunton) who carves out a career as a Daily Telegraph special correspondent. The
play ends with Old and Middle Aged Henry singing Cole Porter's "Night and Day" in unison - a song that sums up their broken
dreams and thwarted aspirations ("You are the one/ Only you beneath the moon and under the sun/ Whether near to me or
far,/ It's no matter, darling, where you are/ I think of you,/ Night and day.")
I have to admit that I didn't warm to this play; perhaps it smacked too much of male
angst, of someone believing that he should have achieved something yet lacking sufficient energy to do so. Or maybe it was
the introduction of God into the action personified by Henry's father (John Rowe), who continually searched for his faith,
and who cast a blight over his family. Horace Rumpole would never have been so indecisive; with a businesslike cough and a
quotation from Wordsworth, he would have sailed into the fray, determined to carry out his responsibilities to the best
of his ability. I wish that Henry Troutbeck Barclay could have done the same: sometimes male writers writing about male problems
can be tedious, particularly when their characters aren't especially interesting.
Paul Scofield gave a colourless portrayal of Old Henry, enlivened only by his reedy
tenor rendition of "Night and Day." It took a long time to recognize Jennings's voice; either I was half-awake or perhaps
the character was not really engaging. This production from the late1990s was directed by Marilyn Imrie.