Lord Dismiss Us

Scottish award-winning playwright and novelist Glenn Chandler’s best-known work might be television detective series Taggart, but he also has a string of successful plays and productions to his credit. The latest is Lord Dismiss Us, taken from the 1967 novel of the same name by Michael Campbell. Fifty years on this play is a frequently jovial and often tender reminder of life before the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21. It was not until 1994 that the age was lowered to 18 and finally to 16 in 2000 but only in England, Wales and Scotland.

Lord Dismiss Us is not just a fabulous theatrical romp; it is an important history lesson.

None of those legal manoeuvres was of help to the incumbents of the quintessentially English Weatherhill School, whether they were one the fourteen unmarried masters or an unfortunate amongst the ranks boarding boys. A new and homophobic headmaster arrives to redeem the school and purge it of malfeasance. Ably assisted by his investigative wife he uncover a hornet’s nest of what they regard as moral depravity. Senior prefect Terry Carleton is in love with fourth year junior Nicky Allen, the school chaplain has paintings of naked youths on his wall, and English master Eric Ashley is fighting his own good fight with his inner demons while encouraging a coterie of boys to be true to their testosterone-fuelled feelings of love and lust.

David Mullen deceptively doubles up as the the chaplain and headmaster. With roles at opposite ends of the moral compass as the latter he haughtily and rigidly proclaims virtue while wriggling his way around an abundance of human weakness as the former. Observing depravity with both sets of eyes he has to deal with the master who was expelled from the school when a pupil, yet was later employed to teach English by a former sympathetic head. Tom Lloyd wittily usurps the current head, conspires with the chaplain and literally opens up doors for the boys. He is delightfully subversive and infuriates Felicity Crabtree as she plays the power behind the throne prying in a manner becoming of an agitated Miss Marple.

As the Head Boy Matthew McCallion dexterously juggles his official responsibilities with knowing perhaps too much about the realities of dormitory life. Every school has its sneak and Jonathan Blaydon is convincingly one of the chaps while being something of an Iago on the side. Joe Bence relishes being the new boy, who is immediately pounced upon and proceeds to behave as a besotted Juliet with more than a degree of naughtiness. As the towering lover who nearly always manages to capture his amor, Joshua Oakes-Rogers beautifully blends the mirth and misery of his predicament.

Life at Weatherhill is fast-paced, amusing and tragic. The rehearsal and performance of the school play provides opportunity for the campest scenes and most laughs, but there is no shortage elsewhere. I am still chuckling at the Canadian mix-up! In poignant contrast are the scenes that portray the emotional suffering of men and boys in love with members of the same sex who endured vilification, humiliation and the prospect of imprisonment.

Lord Dismiss Us is not just a fabulous theatrical romp; it is an important history lesson.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

A homophobic new headmaster and his devoutly religious wife bring a reign of terror to a boys' boarding school, with hilarious and tragic consequences. Prefect Terry Carleton is madly in love with fourth year Nicholas Allen, the chaplain has paintings of naked youths in his study, while English master Eric Ashley fights the good fight with his own inner demons. Will morality be restored? Glenn Chandler, creator of Taggart, writes and directs this first adaptation of Michael Campbell's wickedly funny 1967 novel to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.

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