Pros: Poignant story, strong ensemble and wonderful direction.
Cons: The persistent trains in and out of Waterloo overhead are a constant distraction.
Tucked away under a Vauxhall railway arch is one of the capital’s best-hidden gems, the Above The Stag Theatre. The UK’s only full-time LGBT+ theatre, Above The Stag has been spearheading and championing all things queer for a decade and is a glowing beacon in the South London gay scene. The venue is so popular with London audiences that it’s now outgrown its current home and, in early 2018, will be moving to a bigger and more exciting space just around the corner closer to Vauxhall tube station. They are still fundraising, so please do go to their website and see how you can support this wonderful theatre. All the shows I’ve seen at this space have either had me in tears or stitches, and I’m pleased to say that its new production, Lord Dismiss Us, had me in both.
Only on for a limited run, Lord Dismiss Us is the first stage adaptation of Michael Campbell’s novel and is the brainchild of Taggart creator and playwright Glenn Chandler. Set in a boys’ boarding school in England in 1967, the play marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts and is heartfelt, touching and incredibly moving. The legendary Christopher Isherwood once described Lord Dismiss Us as the finest novel ever written about English public school life, and Chandler’s stage adaptation reflects this beautifully. As someone who went to boarding school in the closet I know what that life, trapped behind school walls as a confused teenager, can be like, but that was in the 1980s. In 1967 it was a whole ‘nother world as the boys who are about to leave school will be seen as criminals the second they step out into the big wide world. Terrifying, but true. Lord Dismiss Us delves into this theme with vigour and humour.
Chandler’s script is fast-paced throughout the two acts with a strong and captivating plot. Without giving too much away: senior prefect Carleton is in love with a fourth year junior; the school chaplain has paintings of naked youths on his wall; the closeted English master has a hidden secret; and the new headmaster is severely homophobic, and his wife is a cast iron bitch dedicated to stamping out ‘moral degeneracy’. Throw them all together and you have a riot of an evening filled with hilarity and poignancy.
The cast are all strong in their individual roles and work brilliantly as a tight ensemble when on the stage together. Carleton is played to perfection by the dashing Joshua Oakes-Rogers. His performance of a trapped tormented teen in love with a younger schoolmate while living in a totally backward and unforgiving society is a delight. The love interest, Nicky, is played brilliantly by Joe Bence. Nicky is much younger than any of the other lads, and Bence’s wide-eyed and naive portrayal is a joy. There are some magical moments between these two lovebirds under Chandler’s direction. Jonathan Blaydon’s camp Peter is comedy gold, while Matthew McCallion as the stricter John, who’s also battling with his sexuality, is fabulous. One of my favourite performances of the night has to be Lewis Allcock as English master Mr Ashley. Allcock’s portrayal of this poor soul, tormented by his inner demons and penchant for young boys, is magical to watch. A special shoutout must also go to the incredible David Mullen, who plays not only homophobic headmaster Phillip Crabtree but also the camp reverend. Mullen’s dual role playing is wondrous. His partner in crime is the equally fabulous Julie Teal, who brings in the bitch factor as Mrs Crabtree with relish.
This show is a relevant must-see and deserves to be supported.
Writer/Director: Glenn Chandler
Producer: Boys of the Empire Productions
Booking Until: 19 November 2017
Box Office: 020 3488 2815
Booking Link: http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/whats-on/lord-dismiss-us/