Wakefield by Nathaniel Hawthorne, adapted by Martyn Wade

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BBC Radio 7, 4 February 2011
A tall tale in which the eponymous hero (David Haig) takes it upon himself to leave home for an indefinite period to see how his wife (Richenda Carey) would react, but discovers to his cost that he can never summon up sufficient courage to return until one day, twenty years later, when he lets himself into the house in the fond expectation that everything will be exactly the same.
Laconically narrated by Nathaniel Hawthorne (John Rowe), Cherry Cookson's production concentrated on the destructive power of Wakefield's imagination. Having spent his entire working life cooped up in an accountant's office, returning home each night at precisely the same time, Wakefield had not the slightest idea of how to deal with other people. While ostensibly happily married, he treated his wife as a convenience; someone to fetch and carry while retaining a doe-like devotion to him. In deciding to leave, he took no account of his wife's possible reaction; he believed that by doing so he would "teach her a lesson," even though we had no inkling of what that "lesson" might be. Moreover Wakefield completely underestimated his wife's capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, while he himself became more and more isolated. With no one to talk to, it was not surprising that he should begin to think he was gradually becoming insane. His eventual decision to return was prompted by the desire to stave off that condition - although we did not find out what happened when he opened the front door, we could guess that he was due for a rude awakening.
Throughout the adaptation Rowe's Hawthorne offered sardonic observations on Wakefield's behaviour; he recounted the story in the present continuous tense, as if everything were happening here and now. Occasionally Wakefield took it upon himself to answer back, but this only served to emphasize the folly of his decision. In more well-known works such as The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne retains a basic generosity of spirit by refusing to judge his characters; in Cookson's Wakefield he assumed a much more intrusive role, resembling a Chorus-figure in Greek tragedy. He might have seemed a little harsh in his pronouncements, but perhaps Wakefield deserved it - after all, he had shown similar indifference to his wife's feelings.
The production contained some notable supporting performances, notably Jonathan Keeble's Mr. Ferris, a lonely man seeking advice from Wakefield about whether or not to marry his childhood sweetheart. Wakefield counsels against it; the sweetheart marries someone else, leaving Ferris distraught. Ferris' fate underlined the morality of Hawthorne's tale; as Wakefield cannot relate to anyone around him, his words are inevitably going to be destructive.