BBC Radio 7, 1 May 2010
Forget all memories of earnest boarding-house melodramas such as Lynne
Reid Banks' The L-Shaped Room; this was a comic tale of a gallery of grotesques whose obsessive
preoccupation with one another's lives caused a series of misadventures. Mrs. Tibbs, the maitresse d' (Imelda
Staunton) was a diminutive woman ruling the roost with a rod of iron, consigning her meek husband (Stephen Hancock) to a series
of menial duties including washing and clearing the dinner-table. Her tenants included Mrs. Bloss (Annette Badland), an hypochondiac
who could only cure herself by eating an inordinate nunber of mutton chops; two single men, Mr. Evenson (Stephen Crichlow)
and Mr. Wisbottle (Peter Gunn) who could never agree on anything and spent most of their time threatening to fight eachother;
and a gold-digging Irishman Mr. O'Bleary (Jason O'Mara). There was also the elusive Mr. Gobbler who never emerged from his
room if he could possibly help it.
The story unfolded as a series of comic misunderstandings involving these characters,
all of whom had too little to do and too much to say about it. Mrs. Tibbs was caught in the front parlour with Mr. Evenson;
Mr. O'Bleary was suspected of trying to kill Mrs. Tibbs for her money, while Mrs. Bloss screamed out for help, convinced that
the boarding-house was overrun with murderers. However everything ended happily: Mr. O'Bleary married Mrs. Bloss and lived
in financial security for thr rest of his life; Mr. Tibbs escaped the malign influence of his spouse for good; while
the two nosey single men were forced to seek alternative lodgings, well away from any middle-aged widows. Only Mrs. Tibbs
failed to obtain anything out of the confusion, as she was forced to sell the house and its contents and move elsewhere.
Breezily directed by Sally Avens, this production proved how good Dickens was at
creating meaty parts for character-actors, allowing them to make full use of their vocal talents. I thoroughly enjoyed it.