Pros: A bold and daring story with a clever and surprising plotline!
Cons: At times the actors spoke too quickly, and some of the lines were fumbled which was distracting.
Tucked under a railway, Above the Stag is actually below the tracks – an interesting location for a story about forbidden love. What could be more forbidden in 1966 than the love between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy?
Sandel, adapted from Angus Stewart’s book by the same name, is not what I expected. Both a romance and a comedy, the storyline was not as predictable as I originally thought it might be. By the end of the play, I found myself shocked in a totally unforeseen way.
Visually engaging, the set itself reflected the precarious situation of homosexuality in 1966. Two bookcases pushing dangerously towards opposite directions were sandwiched between two miniature church towers, the windows of which were frosted. The leaning church facades, together with the bookcases created a sense of unease, even distress. Looking at them evoked a subconscious feeling of discomfort.
Added to this chaos were loose sheets of music, which hung off the bookcases and the tops of the towers. Front and centre was a multifunctional desk and bench, which could be transformed into anything from a bed, to a tall hill, and even a boat! The choirboy music evoked a sense of purity and innocence, but the set made it clear that things were not all as they seemed.
The drama begins with the first lover David Rogers. Played by Joseph Lindoe he is a dry, almost imperious character on first meeting, but ultimately he is a sensitive soul too. A musician and composer, his love for the young Tony Sandel begins with a pure innocence that reminded me of 1950’s films, and their soft, dreamy scenes of sweet love.
Tony Sandel, played masterfully by Ashley Cousins, is a vivacious, bold choirboy – like a young Adonis, at least in David’s eyes. Cousins’ portrayal of Tony is riveting, and he is able to bring out the full complexity of a pre-pubescent boy exploring his sexuality. Cousins is definitely an actor to keep an eye on!
Reprising the role of Bruce Lang, David’s roommate and best friend, Calum Fleming brings to life an Oxford educated man perfectly. Bruce’s sharp sense of humour balances out the soft idyllic love between David and Tony. Caught between his own unrequited love for David and being a good Catholic, Bruce seems to delight in spoiling David’s happiness. I enjoyed Fleming’s Oscar Wilde-like performance the most. His timing and movements were impeccable, and I think he had the majority of the best lines!
One of the most startling things about this play was the suggestion of underage sex and paedophilia. The script handles this with almost glib humour at times, as when young Tony asks David to define paedophilia to him. Yet most shocking, at least to me, was how aggressive Tony’s character became towards the end of the play. He reveals himself to be a highly jealous lover, threatening to do harm to others if David doesn’t assure him of their love. This conflicted completely with the start of the play, and the idea presented of perfect unselfish love.
By the end, I felt torn between feeling sorry for David, and resenting him for allowing himself to become a passive victim to the selfish love of a 14-year-old. This play is edgy, and rather than asking the same old questions about homosexuality and heterosexuality, it questions whether a selfish stifling love should be accepted.
Author: Glenn Chandler, adapted from the novel by Angus Stewart
Producer: Glenn Chandler
Booking Until: 14th June 14 2014
Booking Link: http://www.abovethestag.com/shows/