Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs

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BBC Radio 4, 4 May 2010
Raymond Briggs' own dramatization of his graphic novel focused on the struggles of Jim (David Haig), a toilet attendant who dreamed of creating a better life for himself and his devoted wife Hilda (Jan Ravens). Looking over the situations vacant in a local paper, his imagination leapt into action as he set out to transform his fantasies into reality. Unfortunately most of his aspirations proved fruitless due to his lack of education (he didn't even understand what 'A' Levels are), and he ended up in court, accused of crimes he didn't even know about.
At one level Celia de Wolff's production resembled a Don Quixote-like story, with an idealistic protagonist dreaming of improving himself yet perpetually frustrated by his mental and physical incapacities. Whereas Cervantes' tale encourages us to sympathize with Don Quixote, Gentleman Jim suggests that the eponymous hero is trapped by his social class. As a toilet attendant he is doomed to live a menial life, and will remain unhappy unless he accepts this inescapable fact. Briggs' novel rails at the English class-system, which is still very much part of people's lives (despite the politicians' attempts to deny it).
David Haig characterized Jim as a chirpy innocent, whose speeches ended on a perpetual vocal high; apparently nothing could quench his expectations. However by the end of the play his delivery became much slower, almost mournful as he understood the realities of his life. He could not compete with the fast-talking rogues (judges, officials, bureaucracts), many of whom were performed by John Sessions. Gentleman Jim might be "a charming story" (as Briggs' publishers claim), but in this production it was also a profoundly sad one.