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The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame, adapted by Martyn Wade

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BBC Radio 7, 29 August 2009
 
Childhood can often be regarded as a time of innocence, a world of perpetual sunshine with nothing to do except enjoy oneself. Romantic poets like John Keats yearned to recreate those days, when experiences seemed to possess the kind of spontaneity and immediacy that adults can no longer appreciate. Martyn Wade's version of Kenneth Grahame's charming tale covered similar ground; narrated by a unnamed middle-aged man (James Fleet) looking back on his past, it evoked the world of upper middle-class late Victorian England, when children ran wild in gardens or playrooms, their imaginative fantasies only interrupted by mundane daily events such as lunch and dinner, bedtime or having to meet their parents for one hour each day. While Grahame's children are all orphans, they enjoy a privileged existence, courtesy of some indulgent 'aunts,' and an ineffectual governess Miss Smedley (Marcia Warren) who looks indulgently on their academic shortcomings.
 
This adaptation looked at the world from a childish perspective: the aunts were transformed into ogresses, determined to restrict the orphans' freedom by ordering them to wash their knees or dress properly at mealtimes. Alternatively they were reimagined as Olympians, who only came down from their intellectual mountains for an hour each day. Meanwhile the children shied away from emotional engagement; for them love was nothing more than a fantasy to be found in books. They preferred to reenact tales of derring-do from Greek mythology, in which a girl from next door was recast as Medea, accompanying Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece (but only after tea had been eaten!)
 
However all good things had to come to an end. Miss Smedley departed in a flood of tears, while the Olympians at last stepped down from their ivory tower to decree that the the children's life of innocence should come to an end. All the toys were either stored away or sold, while the eldest child Edward (Oliver Cookson) started life at boarding school. The others manfully strove to continue their edenic existence, but admitted by the end that the 'Golden Age' had come to an end. Now it was time to do something "real and earnest."
 
At another level, Cherry Cookson's production could be seen as a lament for a lost world - a time before the First World War when children let their imaginations run riot without the material things now deemed essential to their lives (mobile phones, playstations etc.) More significantly, they could once play games outside in the secure knowledge that they would not come to any harm. They did not demand "quality time" from their guardians; they were much happier playing on their own. Perhaps today's parents might benefit from looking at childrearing in the same indulgent manner as Grahame recommends.

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