“Men are valued not on what they are, but what they seem to be”
The term ‘all-star cast’ is bandied about quite a bit these days and the more I go to the theatre, the more I realise how subjective a concept it is for me at least. Looking at the performer credits for this Radio 3 production of the Victorian satirical drama Money by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, I went into paroxysms of delight at the names contained within, but chatting later that evening to a group of non-theatre-going friends (for indeed I do still have some!), my excitement was hardly shared.
But for those of you in the know, and I’m counting all you readers of this blog, this is a great collection of actors. Celia Imrie, Roger Allam, Ian McDiarmid, Bertie Carvel, Tom Goodman-Hill, Phoebe Waller-Bridge to name just a few and all directed by the estimable Samuel West, making his radio directorial debut – how could anyone resist. For this version, the play, given a major production by the National Theatre in 1999 which also featured Allam, was recorded on location at Knebworth House which was inherited by Bulwer-Lytton himself just after he wrote this very work in 1840.
The story has been considerably adapted by Kate Clanchy and as the website says, it “re-fashions the action around one grand house, modernises the heroine, Clara, and sets the action just before the 1832 Reform Act to accentuate the political plot.” Not having had any contact with it before, I couldn’t tell you how the adaptation relates to the original but I can say that to these fresh ears, it was a punchily present piece of work whose themes of grasping materialism and social climbing remain as pertinent in our world as it did back then.
Starting off with a group of people gathering for the reading of a will and being surprised when someone unexpected inherits a fortune. Espying opportunities for self-advancement, a motley crew of characters attempt to get their share of this good fortune with a tangle of romantic attachments, grasping would-be father-in-laws and merchants all jockeying around in this rather gentle comedy. But for all its classic Victorian drawing-room style, it has something of a sharper edge too, keen observations flow from Bulwer-Lytton’s pen about the vacuity of a society so obsessed with money and status.
As to be expected from such a quality cast, the performances were excellent throughout. Imrie’s inimitable vocal playfulness is always a delight to hear, as are Allam’s warm tones; Carvel, Ritson and McDiarmind also live up to their billing and I particularly enjoyed Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an actress of whom I’d like to see more. The location recording added a great sense of place and the beautiful musical interludes, recorded specially by the Endellion String Quartet, were the icing on a particularly tasty cake.