Mr. and Mrs. Nobody by Keith Waterhouse

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Mr. and Mrs. Nobody by Keith Waterhouse, based on Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (1990).  Dir. Gordon House.  BBC Radio 4 Extra, 16 March 2015.  Perf. Judi Dench, Michael Williams.  BBCiPlayer


I first heard a radio adaptation of this delightful novel read by Arthur Lowe that proved beyond doubt what a talented performer he was.  A nineteenth-century chronicle of suburban life in London, Diary of a Nobody is full of delightful ironies, as the narrator Charles Pooter unwittingly reveals the limitations of his existence, while simultaneously celebrating the little domestic triumphs and sadnesses that dominate his life.


In Keith Waterhouse’s version, that first appeared on the West End stage, there are two narrators – Charles Pooter (Michael Williams) and his wife Caroline (Judi Dench).  Both are as eager to communicate their ideas to listeners as Charles Pooter was in the source-text, but director Gordon House introduces another level of meaning, as husband and wife perpetually compete for our attention.  They are so keen to tell us the minutiae of their lives that they interrupt one another, talk over one another, or even try to top one another through loud voices.  This suggests a marriage based on competition, however happy it might be.


Mr. and Mrs. Nobody also gives a voice to Caroline which is perhaps suppressed in the source-text.  She reveals the frustrations of living with a man who, for all his protestations of love, seems fundamentally self-interested.  His social standing and his circle of acquaintance seem more important to him than domestic harmony.  Being a good spouse, Caroline acquiesces to most of his wishes, but we feel that she is doing so reluctantly.  She would far rather return to their old house in Peckham rather than continue living closer to the center of town.


Gordon House’s production is extremely funny, especially when the Pooters engage in domestic discussions, but there is a tinge of desperation underneath, especially when Charles quite literally laughs off any adversities and moves on to recounting another aspect of his crowded existence.