Monday, January 31, 2011


national tour co-produced by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Theatre Royal Bath
2011 cast at the Chichester Festival Theatre


Didn't he look like Trimlett from behind ?”

All these characters, staff and boys, could stir schoolday memories in the audience, I'm sure, whether from “the distance enchanted” or the day before yesterday.
For me, it was a poignantly vulnerable Irwin [Ben Lambert] and Scripps [Harry Waller], the earnest, myopic boy with the awkward arms, who plays the piano, addresses the audience and later “writes it all down” …
Philip Franks, Chichester stalwart, was fleshy and flamboyant as Hector, but not perhaps “the big man” the boys might remember; his cry of frustration and pain was strangely lacking in emotional power.
Penelope Beaumont made a believable Mrs Lintott, and I liked Thomas Wheatley's Gradgrind Headmaster – the cynical geographer from Hull played with exquisite irony here by an historian from Corpus !
George Banks had a nice swagger as Dakin – his duologue with Irwin one of several duets at a distance which worked wonderfully on the Chichester thrust. It was all the more powerful when he finally did reach out to him.
Rob Delaney, moving as the impossible-to-cast Posner, often caught the pathos of this lost boy, but lacked the slight frame and child-like fragility the role cries out for.
And Christopher Keegan's Timms, clowning or spoofing the movies, had considerable presence, though I can't foresee a Cordenian comedy future for him. I see from the programme that he's played a John C Reilly lookalike – in a few years he could pass for Bernard Manning, if there's any demand.
The set pieces worked well in Luscombe's version, trimmed for length and lightness. Shame to lose the knock at the door, or the Seven Veils, though, and the famous French maison de passe was needlessly orgiastic, almost as if the boys were somehow sending up the incident in retrospect. Brief Encounter was spot on, however.
The music, whether pumped out over the speakers or bashed out on the battered upright, was as evocative as ever. I'd not recalled the hymn referenced in the heavy bass of the next transition, or Burgon's Nunc Dimittis, recalling another school, another Schoolboy.
Bennett's greatest hit is a strange mélange of periods. The students always seem very 21st century to me, perhaps because of the youthful enthusiasm successive casts have brought to the characters. The ethos of the school embraces exhibitions, scholarships and league tables. The furniture, in Janet Bird's simple, revolving design, reflected this confusion, as did the schoolboys' eclectic schoolbags …

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