Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe, dramatized by Robert Rigby

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British New Wave Season on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 1-8 September 2013
First published in 1958, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is an archetypal tale of the "You've never had it so good" era proclaimed by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.  A booming economy and full employment meant that people now had disposable income - perhaps for the first time - which they could spend on consumer goods (for example, televisions), or on going out and "having a good time."
Arthur Seaton (Joe Dempsie) is one such person.  Stuck in a boring job as a factory machinist, he spends his 14/- a week pay-packet on visceral thrills; drinking himself into a stupor with his mates down the pub, picking up any available women, and spending what remaining hours he has by going fishing.  He revels in the (apparent) freedom of being able to do as he wishes, as he regularly informs us in direct asides.
However Carl Prekopp's production suggested that such freedoms were nothing more than illusions.  Seaton lives in a tight-knit world in which everyone knows everybody else; anything he does (for example, making love to married sisters Brenda (Natalie Grady) and Winnie (Sarah Smart) on separate occasions) is bound to be observed and disseminated among the community.  Gossips such as Mrs. Bull (Rachel Atkins) assume a pivotal role in this process - although Seaton despises her, he cannot stop her tattle.  Eventually he ends up taking a risk too far, and suffers violent consequences.
Prekopp's production also stressed how ignorant many people were - especially about sexual matters.  Seaton ended up getting Brenda pregnant; his sole solution was to visit his kind Aunt Ada (Shirley Anne Field), whose advice Brenda about getting rid of the baby was to soak herself in a bath of hot water and drink a bottle of gin.  In the subsequent sequence, the combination of incessantly running water and the glug-glug of the gin bottle emphasized just how unpleasant this remedy actually was.  Seaton proved no help whatsoever; he was more concerned with escaping responsibility by blaming Brenda for her plight.
At the end of the first episode, Seaton proclaimed once again that he was a free man: no one could either categorize him or force him to do something against his will.  By now we understood that his life was precisely the opposite.  Caught on a repetitive treadmill of work, sex, and the pub, he had no real means of escape, in spite of his money.  In light of this, we wondered whether Macmillan's statement that "you've never had it so good" should be viewed ironically.  What was so good about Seaton's life?
Prekopp's production recreated the world of working-class Nottingham in the late Fifties through a clutch of memorable performances.  Field (who starred in Karel Reisz's ground-breaking 1960 film of Sillitoe's book) came across as sympathetic but ineffective; while Arthur's mother Vera (Julia Hills) offered her son tea but no sympathy.  Consumerism had reduced her husband Harold (Philip Fox) into a television-fixated vegetable.  Brenda's husband Jack (Graeme Hawley) tried to be friendly with Arthur, but lacked emotional as well as mental strength. 
At the centre of the production stood Dempsie's Seaton, a tearaway at heart, who revelled in his ability to deceive others - for example Jack.  However his cockiness was tempered by an increasing understanding of the sterility of his existence.  By the end of episode one, we felt sorry for him as he desperately tried to find a meaning in his life.
Like Johnny Vegas' This Sporting Life, broadcast a day earlier, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was quite simply superb; both adapter and director knew how to render the material significant to listeners, despite the fact that it is over half a century old.