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Apr 28

Review: Forty Years on at Chichester Festival Theatre

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Photos: Johan Persson

Taking up his post as Artistic Director new Head Boy Daniel Evans opens his first Chichester Season with Alan Bennett’s early play, which is set in 1968 at Albion House, a fading public school.

Some fifty local schoolboys join the cast and are outstanding, opening the production with a roof-raising rendition of Praise My Soul the King of Heaven.

The occasion is the end of term show, which also marks the retirement of the elderly headmaster. Under the directorial auspices of his reformist successor, the offering of a history revue includes some sketches that get the old duffer decidedly hot and bothered – to be overtly risqué is definitely tsk-tsk territory.

There are some joyous moments. Danny Lee Wynter’s naughty portrayal of an elderly aristocrat à la Dame Maggie as Downton’s Lady Violet is delicious, while an ace tap-dance solo is worthy of the Strictly! final. A stage invasion of lusty-voiced rugger buggers is also a gas, which for all the headmaster’s puritanical tendencies is deemed perfectly acceptable once it is revealed that the opposition has been roundly trounced.

Alan Cox as incoming headmaster Franklin, Jenny Galloway as Matron and Lucy Briers as Miss Nisbitt give accomplished performances, while the music and singing is superb, thanks to the excellence and exuberance of a terrific ‘school orchestra.’

Some of the historical inspirations do not resonate, leaving these skits teetering on the brink of tedium. But there are plenty of jolly spoofs to compensate, as well as flashes of poignancy bringing a balancing shade.

)inCFT'sproductionofFORTYYEARSON.PhotoJohanPersson_04653You can almost smell overcooked cabbage thanks to Lez Brotherston’s impressive school hall set, which comes complete with an almighty oak organ, rising from and towering over the stage.

At eighty years on himself, and having suffered a heart attack only last year, it is perhaps unsurprising that Richard Wilson is not yet tight on his lines. Reading from a script for the most part, when he struggles to find his place on the page it causes the audience collective anxiety. It’s a shame, but there is still much to enjoy here.

www.cft.org.uk Box office: 01243 781312

Vicky Edwards