*Note: The following review was written over two months after the fact due to writer’s block and my being a disaster of a person.*
After having been told from many different sources, since the first days of the festival, that this a pretty damn brilliant show, I was finally able to make time to see it on my third-to-last day in the city.
A new adaptation of Michael Campbell’s 1967 novel, coming from the noted writer, and creator of Taggart, Glenn Chandler, it was one of the most high-profile shows I saw this year. This, added to the hype I’d gotten from others, caused the bar to be set pretty high going in.
Lord Dismiss Us somersaulted gracefully over the bar and stuck the landing with precision and poise. Elegant writing, and powerhouse performances all around, made for an enthralling hour and twenty minutes. Heartbreak, humour, betrayal, characters larger than life and close to home; the story alone has a lot going for it. It’s adaptation for the stage was seamless and fit like a glove. Anybody familiar with the stereotypes of old British public and private schools (I oppose them in life on principle, but enjoy them in fiction) will instantly recognise all the classic tropes at work. Lord Dismiss Us, however, delved far deeper emotionally than many such stories tend to go with a stark presentation of its subject matter that sometimes proved a tough watch.
The scenes and dialogue are filled with wit and strong dynamics, providing characters it was impossible not to feel engaged with. David Mullen and Felicity Duncan did wonderfully portraying the central ‘villains’ of the piece, the devout Headmaster and his wife. Their characters are inexcusably detestable in every respect but nonetheless internally complex and portrayed with staggering intricacy. Mullen’s additional turn as the lovably pathetic Reverend Cyril Starr provided a beautiful contrast to his other role. Added together with the final element of the ostentatious Eric Ashley, brought to life with panache and sincerity by Tom Llyod, the adult cast’s interactions and dynamic created an eccentric and tense atmosphere of inexhaustible theatrical potential.
But the heart of this play is, of course, the boys. It is in their story, and their relationships, that the full emotional weight of the performance lies. The romance of Nicholas Allen (Joe Bence) and Terry Carleton (Joshua Oakes-Rogers) is natural, endearing, and utterly soul-wrenching. The performances on both young actors’ parts are absolutely stellar and pull no emotive punches to the gut. Jonathan Blaydon demonstrates impressive emotional range bringing both great comedy and sympathetic complexity in the role of the eccentric Naylor. Matthew McCallion rounds out the younger cast nicely as the unwilling secondary semi-antagonist, Steele, in one of the more understated, but no less, strong performances in the piece.
This play is blessed with the twins gifts of a great script (adapted from great source material) and a fully-stacked cast of impressive actors to carry it off. One of the most powerful straight dramas (ironically) that I witnessed at Fringe in 2017, I’m only sorry it took me so long to get around to writing up my thoughts on it.