BBC Radio 4, 6-13 March 2011
Set in a tightly organized, mechanized world of the Midlands in the late nineteenth
century, Anna of the Five Towns portrays a world in which work is the sole guarantee of success and capitalism is
valued as much as (male) individualism. Nadia Molinari's production showed how this environment depended on
settled gender roles: Tellwright (David Schofield) expected total loyalty from his daughter Anna (Charlotte Riley),
and invariably received it. He embraced the Methodist tradition, which apparently cultivated a belief in God's will, so long
as one obeyed the 'rules' laid down by society, which (in Tellwright's view) meant respecting gender roles. Likewise Henry
Mynors (Lee Williams) embraced the Methodist tradition; while proposing marriage to Anna, he expected her to fulfil her
accepted role as a homemaker and not to worry herself about the male-dominated sphere of business. However director Molinari
also suggested that Mynors' Methodism was actually a means for him to evade responsibility; if anything went wrong,
he simply attributed it to God's will and continued in much the same way as he had done before.
Riley's Anna tried her best to find an identity for herself, even though forced
to make compromises along the way. She defied her father; and found herself forced out of her house as a result. While
willingly accepting Henry's proposal - in search of security, both financial and moral - she insisted that he must give
her the space to speak her mind, even if her views conflicted with those of her husband.
Molinari's production also suggested that everyone, regardless of class or gender,
should look out for one another. This was done by constructing the adaptation in confessional form, where Anna narrated her
past actions as if talking to her tenant William Price (Michael Socha) in the present. She understood how Price
had been victimized by a money-conscious society that insisted on penalizing William and his father Titus (James Masters)
for defaulting on their financial responsibilities and ultimately driving them to suicide. While more ready to celebrate success - whether marital or financial - this society ostracized
those deprived of financial clout. Anna herself realized that she was implicated in this ostracizing process, despite her
goodwill towards William. All she could do was to apologize to William after his death and vow to live her life in a better
way in the future.
Whether that was possible, however, was left deliberately unanswered. As Anna bade
farewell to William, as well as to the listeners, she looked forward to a life of comfortable domesticity as Henry's wife.
All she could hope for was that she could be more understanding to her social inferiors, in spite of her husband's potential
Fluidly directed, with a keen sense of linguistic precision, this production used
music to underline the social message. As Anna finished her narrative, the sound of a single double bass could be heard in
the background, emphasizing the pain that she had unwittingly caused both to herself and Price's family.