BBC Radio 4, 5-19 January 2014
On the basis of the first episode,
Nadia Molinari's production of John Irving's 1978 classic concentrated on two main themes. The first centred on Jenny
Fields (Miranda Richardson), who steadfastly refused to conform to mid-twentieth century concepts of femininity. She
made a conscious decision to have a child, Garp (Lee Ingleby), by making love to a dying soldier, also called Garp.
The soldier was bereft of the power to speak, except for saying the word "Garp"; but Jenny was so successful in her quest
that she managed to get the soldier to say "Gooood," just before he died, immediately after the act of procreation.
Thereafter Jenny pursued her
own course through life; seldom listening to any of the men around her, despite being the only woman in an army camp.
In Molinari's production, she was also given the responsibility of narrating the story, a role she thoroughly relished.
The second strand to the production
focused in more general terms on the discovery of identity. As Garp grew up, he searched for the kind of roles that
would bring him success, both material and emotional. He tried wrestling; went on a trip with his mother to Vienna;
and subsequently began a career as a writer. Although not financially successful in this last role, Garp began to discover
how writing gave him the chance to make sense of the world, as well as define his relationships with members of the opposite
sex, notably Helen (Lyndsey Marshal). Unlike his mother, Garp seemed uninterested in the sexual act; his beliefs
appeared far more spiritual in tone. Writing helped him to try and understand himself and his responses to the world.
Garp's career as a writer was
contrasted with that of his mother, who began to write her autobiography at the same time as her son started to write stories.
As portrayed by Richardson, Jenny came across as a no-nonsense person - someone who knew what she wanted to write, even if
she could not necessarily find the appropriate title. Although that might guarantee greater financial success, it did
not suggest that Jenny was a great writer. But she nonetheless deserved out admiration for the way in which she tried
to define the world on her own terms.
The second episode was much darker as it brought the adaptation's two main themes together.
Jenny became a successful novelist - so successful, in fact, that she was able to choose her life on her own terms.
In a fascinating reversal of sexual politics, it was the man - in this case, former football player Robert (now Roberta) Muldoon
(Jonathan Keeble) - who was subservient to her. He had undergone a sex-change in the belief that he would discover his
"true" nature, and subsequently decided to become Jenny's bodyguard.
By contrast Garp's search for identity became more and more fraught; his novels (unlike his
mother's) were indifferently received, while his marriage to Helen solved nothing. Throughout the second episode, director
Molinari showed him constructing fantasies around himself and his children (Adam Thomas Wright, Adam Greaves-Neal), which
became more and more morbid as the action unfolded. In the end, there seemed little to distinguish between "fantasy"
and "reality"; they both seemed the same for Garp. Hence when he discovered that Helen was having an affair with Michael
Milton (Harry Jardine), we feared for Milton's future. Garp resembled a lost soul; someone who had tried and failed
to discover himself and who could now only respond with violence.