Tuesday 12 October 2010

Rural Idyll?

Last night I saw the National Theatre production of "Lark Rise to Candleford" at the New Theatre, Cardiff. I only saw 5 minutes of the TV version because Dawn French hamming it up as an Oxfordshire yokel was actually more awful even than the Vicar of Dibley horror (no, really). This production predates the telly one - though its reappearance obviously cashes in on it - and it's a bit truer to the Flora Thompson books.

It was a slick and well-made production but I didn't like it much (as I knew I wouldn't - not my turn to pick a show) because for all its efforts not to present an idyllic rural world it nevertheless suggests a kind of heroism in adversity for late 19th c. farm labourers which is completely unbelievable. This morning on the box I see Claire Rayner has died and there is a clip of her illustrating her concern for the oppressed saying "Poverty is HORRIBLE!" and she could have added that poverty and injustice is at least as likely to make people embittered, selfish, and uninteresting as it is to make them thoughtful and idealistic.

If you want to understand rural poverty read R S Thomas, especially his Iago Prytherch poems which make you shudder at the repetition and near-pointlessness of labouring on a farm - and that was the 1940s! The fictional Iago does have a certain dignity in his timeless unity with the land but he wouldn't have appreciated anybody saying so as he shivers and spits in the fields. Even better try D J Williams' (picture) autobiographical Hen Dŷ Ffarm (1953) or Waldo Williams' translation of the same The Old Farmhouse (1961) (both out of print but you can find copies on Amazon - at least of the English version). This gives a completely truthful and unromantised (and therefore more moving) insight into rural life in Wales almost as long ago as "Lark Rise". My father pointed out the frail DJW to me doing his shopping at Fishguard market circa 1968, quite a link to the past.

I don't regret going out as we sample the eat-all-you-want for £13.99 menu at Zushi. After an effective charm offensive by Mrs B cooing at the expert knife-work the chef sportingly just passes the raw fish slices straight to us to save it the journey round on the conveyor belt (with attendant risk that some of the other mainly Japanese diners might grab it). Yum.