Mounting a new
production of what is arguably Alan Bennett's most successful play
has given director Daniel Buckroyd the chance to stamp a different
pattern on it. The central character, of course, remains that of
Hector, the maverick teacher, but Stephen Ley's performance
suggests vulnerability as well as Dionysian enthusiasms. It throws an
alternative spotlight on the pupils and staff members with whom he
engages in so many ways.
Those pupils are an
excellent, well-contrasted bunch. Philip Labey's Posner is an
excellently rounded study of an outsider, and he puts over his songs
beautifully. Scott Arthur's cock o' the walk Dakin is another
credible and good portrait, this one is of a teenager "on the
make". The early set-piece where a french language improvisation
morphs from a Parisian brothel to a First World War field hospital
deservedly elicited applause.
Mrs Lincott is the
history mistress who believes in facts. In Liza Sadovy's
characterisation you watch a woman who has lost whatever enthusiasm
for either her subject or teaching it, knows that this makes her
staff position exposed, but cannot find the resources in herself to
make any changes. What will be, will be. Freddie Machin's Irwin,
that historian with a gift for sound-bites, so economical with any
type of truth, also rings true. You cannot like him, but you
Designer Dan Allsopp
uses a central revolve to take us from classroom to staffroom to the
study where headmaster Ignatius Anthony fumes over examination
league tables and the weight of parental and gubernatorial opinion.
In both staffroom and study, Ley shows us a man who is not really at
home in either place. Only in the classroom (and on his motor-bike)
can he flourish as he wants – needs – to do. "Truth is
rarely pure and never simple" wrote Wilde. You could say the
same about education.