Roaring Boys

Roaring Boys makes a welcome and very successful return to the Festival Fringe this year adding a further chapter to its interesting history. Commissioned in 1994 by Sandbach School from former Head of Drama, Phelim Rowland, it went on to be selected to launch the Connections project at the National Theatre in July 1994 and subsequently receive excellent reviews at the 1994 Festival Fringe. In so doing it established the school’s reputation as a centre of excellence for drama and led to international tours and further appearances in Edinburgh. This revival is the final production from the school’s theatre director, John Lonsdale, who was awarded the MBE for his services in 2014.

As a social commentary, Roaring Boys could just as easily have been written about the 2015 election as that of 1979

The play’s setting is specific: the evening of 3rd May 1979. The haughty gentlemen of a horticultural society gather dressed in formal dinner suits for an eighteenth century style banquet. They gather in anticipation of the return of their kind to power once the election result is made known the next day, when the Thatcherite era would commence. In need of someone to do the washing-up, they employ a locally known punk and his friend with learning and physical disabilities. As the abuse of these two progresses, the members decide it would be a jolly jape to make punk Willy chairman of the society for just that one night. Willy is now able to lay down the rules and sets a series of challenges for the chaps.

Oliver Dernie rises to the role of the outcast in ‘their’ society who is finally able to wield power and lord it over them. With an accent and language that vividly contrasts with that of the gentlemen, he creates the character and world these men despise. However, this is only a game at his expense and more so of his friend Simon who is ruthlessly bullied throughout. Cian Landman fully takes on this challenging role, developing distinctive speech, walk and gesture to reveal the conditions that make him a defenceless young victim of privileged thugs led by Mr. Hassett.

Harry Myers, in the role of Hassett, displays an impeccable accent and fine gestures, generating the idea that this place has become ‘an asylum in the hands of the deranged’. Mr. Walton, chairman of the society, failing to restrain him, joins in with the rest of them. William Bloor plays this role admirably with the remaining cast creating equally fine characters abounding in idiosyncrasies.

The steeply raked seats of the downstairs lecture theatre at the The Royal College of Physicians creates a voyeuristic setting for this production. We can look down on the antics with an eagle eye as the party proceeds in anticipation of ‘strong government’ and ‘good gardening’. Lighting and set complement the staging that also includes an eccentric dance scene that the boys carry off in style.

As a social commentary on the themes of the abuse of power, the functioning of a stratified society and the treatment of the less fortunate, Roaring Boys could just as easily have been written about the 2015 election as that of 1979; the only difference being the certainty of the result.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Set in a public school on the night of the 1979 general election, the self-styled Roaring Boys ape the manners of the eighteenth century: as they wait for victory they rehearse the Thatcherite era... Premiered at the 1994 Fringe, the play went on to win a coveted place at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre showcase of the launch of the connections programme.

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