Terence Rattigan's undoubtedly brilliant play gets a rather tedious reworking in this production by student company Hoghead Theatre.
Schoolmaster Andrew Crocker-Harris is retiring from the public school where he has been teaching Classics for eighteen years. On his penultimate day, several people call on him and he comes to some startling realisations about himself, his career and his marriage.
The young actors present the audience with caricatures, rather than three-dimensional characters, focusing on the outward appearance of the play, rather than the deeper emotional meanings. They are so focused on speaking in clipped BBC accents and keeping hold of their mannerisms, that they pay little attention to what the text requires of them. Crocker-Harris (played by Anders Jay) never varies his tempo or tone, so much of his character's finely structured dialogue loses its impact.
Perhaps the company should be less apologetic about what they are doing: in the programme notes director James Derbyshire writes "The language may be old-fashioned and the setting a little difficult to relate to". There are far older plays with far more old-fashioned language that are still popular. There are plays set on space ships or medieval courts, and audience still relate to them, because the characters are people, and the characters in The Browning Version are people, and this is the beauty of the play. But if the company approaches a text with the thought that it is somehow alien, as if there aren't people facing retirement, as if no one is in a miserable marriage, as if no one goes to school and fears failure, then that lack of understanding will be visible to the audience.
The young people of Hoghead theatre have potential to be good theatre makers, but the actors need to act, rather than mimic, and everyone needs to have faith in the work they are doing.