by Mark Ravenhill
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS to 26 January 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 40 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000
Review: William Russell 13 December
Get lost Mr Chips
After 45 years deputy headmaster Edward, by all accounts a teacher dedicated to his pupils, is retiring and a celebration is planned at the school. But he and his wife have been holed up at home for six days unable to go out while mobs of schoolchildren have been demonstrating outside. A brick has been thrown through the window.
Their estranged daughter arrives to effect reconciliation, to explain that she is part of the process of turning the school, which is apparently failing, into an academy. The problem seems to be that once upon a time the deputy head was the man who caned the pupils, and Edward, who did it reluctantly – or possibly with relish as for he is revealed as a bully, his wife as someone permanently walking a tightrope of not upsetting him – has the now abandoned cane in the attic.
It is a fascinating battle played beautifully by the cast. Alun Armstrong catches all the qualities that would have made the man an inspiring teacher, but revealing behind a much nastier personality, Maggie Steed walks that tightrope making the best of things with skill and as the daughter Nicola Walker is every bit as dangerous as her father while professing all sorts of enlightened values, This is a woman who as a child chased her father round the room with an axe, the walls of which still bear the marks of where she smashed the thing in rage. Meanwhile he and his wife are waiting for the headmaster to call to finalise the great farewell event, but he is not coming.
Admire the cast, enjoy the battle of words, ponder the lost age of corporal punishment, wonder at the way the snowflake generation will get up on arms at what happened once, but happens no more. Vicky Featherstone has directed it well, and her cast could not be bettered. Chloe Lamford’s set – an almost empty room, one chair, a tiny coffee table, dreary wallpaper, that boarded up window and no sign of a way out, apart from a ruined staircase leading to Edward’s study, and an amazingly high ceiling – is deeply upsetting. It has secrets to reveal, as have the three people. There are, of course, things in the attic to which, at some point, Maureen has allowed some of the pupils access although they are not, as the daughter inevitably assumes, since they have been put there by a man, stashes of porn.
Things end rather nastily as finally the unseen front door is opened. The play holds the attention and makes perfectly clear the days of Mr Chips are well and truly over, as are those of the innocuous as an object, but pain and damage causing cane. It is what has taken their place that is alarming.
Edward: Alun Armstrong.
Maureen: Maggie Steed,
Anna: Nicola Walker.
Director: Vicky Featherstone.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers.
Sound Designer: David McSeveney.
Fight Director: Brat Yount.
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw.