IMAGINE, if you can, a whole week of television with not a single programme concerned with. or dragging in, sex. It would be refreshing as a lemon sorbet in the Sahara.
My last week's watching was certainly not like that, and I suppose no week ever will be. However, one absolutely firstclass play dealing with the old subject did redeem the situation. and not in any grimly finger-wagging manner either.
David Rudkin's Blodwen, Home from Rachel's Marriage was an extremely funny look at the life of a Welsh girl much devoted to good works and theology (odd and delightful to hear the solemnities that perplex all Christians today providing the comic basis of a teleplay's opening scene) and it was also a plainly serious confrontation with our current attitudes to sexual relations, Its merits included Mr. Rudkin's bold grasp of the medium through which he addressed us. He unfolded his drama TVwise, following the logic of his substantial argument and not that of his slight story. And, provided one could shed tutored-in notions about how a play should come at one, it was very successful.
The story came in two rather disjointed small pieces, one about the heroine's impressions of Ireland, seen both as a barely suppressed sexual jungle and as a theological free-for-all, and one about her being kidnapped by rag-week students. But since Mr. Rudkin made no pretence of filling in the link between them it did not greatly matter that there scarcely was one.
Submerged under the delightful liveliness of the language— "and with the cat sitting in the frying-pan" — one was swept happily along. Yet it would be a mistake to think that the piece was just a parade of 'comic curiosities. Mr. Rudkin's people were figures of truth. Their comicalities were part of whole human beings, not collections of unattached whimsies.
And whole people they needed to be since Mr. Rudkin was not producing merely a series of funny situations though the episode of the changing and re-changing of place-cards at the wedding reception was as funny as you could wish—but he was putting before us the real debate that the easy phrase "permissive society" often conceals.
He showed us first his chapelfixated heroine in the conventional light, to most modern eyes, of a fish terribly out of water, an introvert needing to be made to take "Life" in both hands. Then he deftly switched our viewpoint and, by contrasting this girl with the inane shenanigans of a permissive student party, forcibly made the point that this debate is in fact an equal contest with truth on both sides.
Let me add that he was considerably aided in the impact the piece made by the direction of Alan Cooke, Little here in any way slipshod, only perhaps an occasional difficulty in hearing what was said.
However odd the behaviour of the characters it was thoroughly believed in and thus came over as recognisably human. For a fearful example of exactly how not to do this, look in at Judge Dee, perhaps the most pointless and awful programme currently on our screens.
And tribute, too, must be paid to all the acting in "Blodwen Home." Even the smallest parts, thanks to skilful casting, were excellently done and Ann Beach's performance as the heroine was something I shall long remember. The awkward yet inborn dignity she showed as she walked out on the mocking students was a shaft sent deep into human nature.
But the play, alas, was an exception to television's general handling of the inescapable subject. For an example of that I turn to Toys by John Whitewood, ITV's Saturday Night Theatre. The shafts it sent into human nature went just about as deep as a lightly rubbed-in beauty cream.
It was a somewhat complicated story of various couples
going through the sexual hoops and ending with the main protagonists, a craggy-chinned romantic writer and his immaculately beautiful blonde former wife, happily deciding to "give it another try."
Admirable sentiment, of course. My only objection is that the people shown working their way to this conclusion were so glossy and on-the-surface that their achievement meant nothing.
No objection either to a happy ending, even one as ignoring of the realities as this. But considerable objection to the determinedly sex-loaded language and references throughout.
"But people talk like that," a defender of the piece would say. True, many an emancipated girl student might talk as one of them did here. But since this character, and all the rest, were no more than the outward shells of real people there was no need whatsover for this offensiveness, nor for the sniggering references to books like the much misunderstood Karma Sutra.
Mr. Rudkin's play was, I think, fairly full of equally "uninhibited" remarks. But I can remember none of them. And the reason for that is that they had a purpose and admirably served it. I remember the sexual references in "Toys" because the only purpose they had was to put a varnish of modish shockingness on to a good oldfashioned piece of chocolatecake story-telling. Get the point, Mrs. Mary Whitehouse?
Could be good
Saturday, BBC-2: "Sinister Street." Start of a six-part dramatisation of the famous story of a young man by Compton Mackenzie. Adapted by Ray Lawler, Australian author of "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll," now living in Ireland.
Monday, ITV: "The Double Agent." The successful thriller by John Bingham, husband of Catholic Jh contributor, Madeleine Bingham, adapted as a play.
Wednesday, BBC-I: "Cause for C o n c e r n." Documentary looks at the plight of a real "Cathy Come Home" family, with added complications.