Play for dedicated Bennett fans

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Play: Forty Years On

Venue: York Theatre Royal

Review BY: Julia Pattison

Forty Years On is Alan Bennett’s first ever play, written back in 1968, becoming an instant hit in the West End with John Gielgud as Headmaster.

Set in The Albion, a public school, this is a play within a play which follows the staff and students of the dramatic society as they present ‘Speak For England Arthur’ in the last days of term.

Robert Pickavance was outstanding as the Headmaster; his comic timing and expressive facial expressions as he dealt with changing times was a joy to experience.

I have to say though, that although I admired Dawn Allsop’s school hall set design, I do feel this play would have worked better using a proscenium arch, particularly when we all sang Jerusalem in school assembly.

There were some wonderful comedy moments throughout this very witty play; the confirmation class, with Jonathan Race as bored teacher Tempest, discussing a boy’s private parts with the unfortunate Tupper (Joe Hufton) was one of many highlights.

The play constantly hopped back in time, and was deliberately episodic rather than flowing – it was a good idea to put the dates up on the hymn board, or I really would have lost the plot.

The ensemble acting was as good as ever, but I have to say that my attention wandered from time to time, despite the songs, dances and schoolboy humour of a bygone era.

A play for dedicated Alan Bennett fans.