Lord Dismiss Us
Above the Stag
Reviewed – 26th October 2017
“has a great deal of brio and charm … though doesn’t quite escape the strictures of its time”
Michael Campbell’s novel, Lord Dismiss Us, adapted for the stage this year by Glenn Chandler, was published 50 years ago in 1967, the same year that the Wolfenden report took the first steps toward the decriminalisation of homosexuality. As a longstanding London LGBT theatre, Above the Stag is hosting the show, produced by Boys of the Empire Productions, in response to this milestone event.
David Shields’ design expertly transformed this Vauxhall railway arch into a boys’ public school, and it worked well for the audience to arrive into an atmosphere of schoolboy tomfoolery, as too did the moments in which, under the aegis of David Mullen’s Headmaster, we were transformed into fellow pupils, attending school assembly. The plot lines are familiar territory to a 21st century audience – stolen moments of forbidden love, the emergence of the creative self – and many of the characters too have resurfaced in different guises over the past 50 years, from the compassionate, culturally alive teacher Eric Ashley, to the camp clergyman Reverend Starr. As a result, it is a difficult task for a contemporary production to convey the very real risks present to these men in the late 60s – both those emerging into their adult lives as well as their teachers and mentors – and thus the show romped along with gusto, but lacked the emotional gravitas which could have led to a more intense theatrical experience.
There was some terrific work from Lewis Allcock as the beleaguered Eric Ashley; his performance provided moments of true tenderness and passion and was the beating heart of the show. David Mullen’s Reverend too was truly touching at times, although occasionally he lost veracity and veered towards caricature, perhaps as a result of Mullen’s double role, and his need to define the Reverend against the humourless Scottish Head. Joshua Oakes-Rogers was convincing as Terry Carleton, as was Joe Bence as Nicholas Allen, the object of his affections, but Carleton’s journey from louche poseur to a young writer in love could have been explored further, and this reviewer would have liked the perpetually-smiling Nicky to have been a little more pole-axed by his final kiss. Matthew McCallion’s wonderful breakout moment in the play-within-a-play provided a welcome counterpoint, and special mention too must go to Jonathan Blaydon for his excellent Peter Naylor, whose playful physicality was a joy to watch.
Julie Teal, as Cecilia Crabtree, had the unenviable task of putting light and shade into a wholly unsympathetic and somewhat underwritten character; despite some deft touches of characterisation, Cecilia remained a product of the time in which she came into being. Indeed, the treatment of women in the play – other than Cecilia we don’t see any, and we are merely given some unflattering imitations of girls from the visiting girls’ school – is one way in which the piece has dated detrimentally.
Ultimately, though this production has a great deal of brio and charm, Lord Dismiss Us doesn’t quite escape the strictures of its time, and therefore remains an entertaining evening, rather than an exciting one.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by PBG Studios
LORD DISMISS US
is at Above the Stag until 19th November