BBC Radio 4, 10-17 March 2013
Gary Brown's production recounted a familiar narrative of a young girl,
the book's eponymous heroine (Lyndsey Marshal) working in a horse-racing household, who gets pregnant by the servant William
(Matthew McNulty), and has to leave her employment. Thereafter her life keeps taking turns for the worse, as she returns
to her brutal stepfather's home and has to try to find work while employing someone to look after her child.
But this was no good-hearted Dickensian narrative: Oakes' version brought out the
brutality of mid-Victorian society, in which no one would do anything unless they were exorbitantly paid for it. Even
when Esther did find someone to help her, she could not guarantee that they would undertake their responsibilities properly.
This was a dog-eat-dog society; everyone was out for themselves, leaving Esther with absolutely nothing, both financially
This production also emphasized the latent violence lurking beneath the respectable
surface of Victorian bourgeois society. Whenever anything went wrong, the characters - especially those working in at
Woodview (where Esther began life as a servant girl) - attacked one another both verbally and physically.
Through intelligent use of doubling, Brown also emphasized the facelessness of this
world. Hugh Simon played two servants; Melissa Jane Sinden two 'helpful' wives offering their services to Esther (at
a price, of course); and Fiona Clarke took on similar roles. It did not matter what their names were; they were all
part of a world out to exploit the poor and powerless.
Above all, this was an umcomfortable production that rejected the sonic
conventions frequently associated with adaptations of nineteenth century novels (the sounds of carts or street-vendors in
the background) and focused instead on the realities of what life was like at that time.