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'An old woman came into the restaurant to dine. She was fat, shapeless, ugly, and grotesque. She had a ridiculous voice, and ridiculous gestures. It was easy to see that she lived alone, and that in the long lapse of years she had developed the kind of peculiarity which induces guffaws among the thoughtless.
I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner: "This woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from these ridiculous mannerisms. Very probably she is unconscious of her singularities. Her case is a tragedy. One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she."'
So said Arnold Bennett when explaining what inspired the creation of The Old Wives' Tale.
Broken up into four parts, the lives of two sisters are laid bare; one timid and unassuming, the other romantic and adventurous. From working as children in their family's drapery shop to their later years, Constance and Sophia's journey through life could not be more different. While one travels the world and defies male expectations, the other becomes a dutiful wife and mother.
Despite this, Bennett's skilful and witty narrative ultimately leads our protagonists in the same direction, making The Old Wives' Tale an intriguing interpretation of the circle of life and, unsurprisingly, his most popular work.
Arnold Bennett wrote over 20 novels and 10 plays, including Anna of the Five Towns, Clayhanger, These Twain, Hilda Lessways and Buried Alive. In June 2017, to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery commissioned a bronze statue of the author. He was elegantly immortalised sitting in a chair and holding an open book in his left hand.
David Haig is a classically trained actor, writer and LAMDA graduate. His film appearances include Two Weeks' Notice, Florence Foster-Jenkins and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
He wrote The Good Samaritan which opened at the Hampstead Theatre in 2000 to great reviews. His first script, entitled My Boy Jack, had also been performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 1997 and later broadcast on ITV, starring David Haig and Daniel Radcliffe.
Haig's theatre credits include Our Country's Good, for which he won a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, Tom and Viv, which took him to Broadway, and the musicals Mary Poppins and Guys and Dolls.
His notable television roles in series such as Doctor Who, The Darling Buds of May, The Thin Blue Line and Penny Dreadful have also been exemplary of his varied acting skills and dynamic voice.
Other than The Old Wives Tale, David has also contributed to the narration of The National Archives' In Their Own Words: A History in Letters.
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Slow down and let yourself go
Masterly narration by David Haig