The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope, dramatized by Nick Warburton

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The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope, dramatized by Nick Warburton. Dir. Marian Nancarrow. Perf. Maggie Steed, Nigel Anthony, Tim Pigott-Smith. BBC Radio 4, 6-27 June 2015. BBCiPlayer

Perhaps more than on any previous occasion when I have listened to Trollope on the radio, I understood from this production what good soap opera he actually provides. Intrigue; marital discord; frustrated love-affairs; a fracas over a stolen check; and a deliberate contrasting of country and city values; all of them are packed into this four-hour "Classic Serial" presentation.

The basic scenario is straightforward: Mr. Crawley (Adam Kotz) has been accused of stealing a check, and it seems as if he is guilty in light of the fact that he cannot remember what he did with it. Enlisting the good-natured assistance of lawyer Mr. Toogood (Sam Dale), he seems to at least have an ally in his quest, but Crawley's fears of a lost reputation eventually prompt him to resign his position as vicar of Higglestock. This decision would have been welcomed by Mrs. Proudie (Joanna Monro), but she eventually has a dust-up with her husband the Bishop (James Lailey), which has significant consequences for both of them. Around that central plot-line we have frustrated love-affairs involving Johnny Eames (Samuel Barnett) and Lily Dale (Scarlett Alice Johnson), and Grace Crawley (Rhiannon Needs) and Henry Grantly (Mark Edel-Hunt).

Marian Nancarrow's production brings out the Victorian values of the source-text, in which marriage is conceived in two ways: either as a business transaction ensuring the future success of upwardly mobile families; or as a sentimental union of souls that transcends adversity. Johnny embraces the second belief: one of the reasons why he can never achieve union with Lily is that Lily believes she can never achieve happiness.

Wittily narrated by Mrs. Baxter (Maggie Steed), who not only tells the story but discloses the inner thoughts of most of the major characters (even interacting with them on occasions). "The Last Chronicle of Barset" contains some humorous moments, especially involving Johnny and his spoilt London would-be lover Madalina Demolines (Ayesha Antoine). Many of the sentiments expressed in these scenes would not seem out of place in a cheap sentimental novel of the most vulgar type. For the most part, however, the production shows how the settled world of Barsetshire is perpetually under threat, not just from external forces such as capitalism and industrialization, but from the people themselves as they aspire to better things, often at their fellow-citizens' expense.