Forty years on

Richard Wilson as the Headmaster

I went to the matinée of Forty Years On at Chichester Festival Theatre this afternoon, by coincidence around forty years since I last went there as a young teenager.

Set in a British public school, which is putting on an end of term play in front of the parents, ie the audience. It’s also marking and celebrating the end of an era, as the Headmaster (Richard Wilson) is retiring. The school play is a nostalgic/satirical look at England since the end of the First World War in 1918.

In a 1999 study of Bennett’s work, Peter Wolfe writes that the author calls the piece “part play, part revue”; Wolfe describes it as “nostalgic and astringent, elegiac and unsettling”.[2]

Perhaps too long has now passed for it to be unsettling. Rather it came over as a bit hollow and confusing — perhaps as Wilson lacks some energy or complete mastery of the script. And, as Michael Billington says in the Guardian:

It is a complex play-within-a-play that requires the greatest possible clarity in the staging; instead, Evans (the director) fills the space with relentless activity.

Nevertheless, it was funny, and the school pupils, both professional actors and from local schools were excellent.

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