by Alan Bennett.

Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ To 21 April 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Audio-described 21 April 2pm.
Captioned 18 April 2pm.
Runs 3hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 April.

Fine performances and a magnificent directorial achievement.
There have been many plays about school-life, fitting the tones of their times. Alan Bennett’s much-lauded 2004 piece is among the least successful in portraying a working school. Even Ian Forrest’s well-calculated revival only finds reality around the fringes – mainly in Robert Pickavance’s well-groomed, results-seeking yet ultimately compromising headteacher.

It’s a pity the head is played with excessive mannerism; and the one female role scarcely gives the fine Maria Gough room to be more than efficient, even in her pointed line about women in a mock-interview scene.

Bennett’s set-up rings false. His scholarship class at a Grammar School (in the north – how many existed in what’s reputedly the 1980s?) has no life outside this one classroom. And what school would have called preparation for Oxbridge exams ‘General Studies’ (though Bennett accurately hits schools’ hypocrisy over this subject)? It’s particularly ironic in a play with a curriculum subject in the title.

Along with routines such as film-recognition games Hector plays with his class – it’s hard to believe they’d have taken any interest in such old films – he has an approach which might have escaped officialdom, but would hardly have had the toleration of the boys affected (it’s apparently a single-sex grammar too).

His nemesis, young teacher Irwin has a controversialist approach which makes his subsequent public career all-too believable, though Bennett states rather than developing the teaching culture-clash, unlike Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians.

Yet, for all the play’s shortcomings, it has wit and wisdom. And Forrest’s production, for which designer Martin Johns captures a precise mid-state dilapidation, makes a magnetic evening, with superbly individualised performances of the students, each balanced precisely in status and manner, sharing the teenage manner of expressing everything with protective challenge.

And there’s the care Forrest brings to each moment, given its comic and emotional potential, building to the final twist of fate and creating the sense of this little, detached world, so the final look ahead to the boys’ futures is not only characteristically satisfying, it also carries a powerful consideration of how trades and professions await to fill individual ambitions when education, and school-time, is past.

Akthar: Phil Adèle
Lockwood: Jack Brown.
Irwin: Kieran Buckeridge.
Timms: Andy Daniel.
Rudge: Philip Duguid-McQuillan.
Mrs Lintott: Maria Gough.
Scripps: Greg Herst.
Dakin: Mitchell Hunt.
Headmaster/Driver: Robert Pickavance.
Crowther: Freddie Rogers.
Hector: Peter Rylands.
Posner: Meilir Rhys Williams.

Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Andrew J Lindsay.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Movement: Lorelei Lynn.
Dialect coaches: Charmian Hoare, Jax Williams.
Assistant director: Jez Pike.
Assistant designer: Thomasin Marshall.

2012-04-16 13:30:17

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