Hare and Rattigan at Chichester

Posted by RDN under On theatre on 29 September 2011

This was a superb The Browning Version with every nuance of the main characters richly and neatly done. Perhaps the headmaster was an ounce too bouncily nasty. Naturally enough. it’s the Hare homage, votive offering, re-calibration (or whatever) of Rattigan which had even more of one’s attention. Here’s a first bash at an appreciation….

It is a marvelous play and it is very Rattigan-ish.

The anglo-catholic school in South Downs was presumably Lancing (DH’s alma mater) and John Blakemore, the existentially-intelligent central figure, is DH himself in 1962 (right down to their shared and odd use of the description of “sailor” for a father who is presumably an officer in the merchant navy. We are within our rights to assume that this was intended to be an accurate account of the mores of such a place and time.  I can’t help feeling David Hare is letting off ideological steam rather than giving us a strictly fair account. Time, I fear, for a personal note.

I can’t say what Lancing was like in the early 60s. Blakemore is at the school by virtue of having failed to get into a grander one. It happens that I went to a public school even more minor than Lancing, by virtue of having failed to get in there. At our pleasantly arriviste place, we didn’t  (if I recall right) use the “f” word as much as Hare has his fellows doing. We were interested in the queerness of our queerer masters, who were a notable minority amongst the staff, but we didn’t obsess on it. We did indeed take a great deal of interest in our “tools” and those of our fellows, and mutual masturbation was officially  frowned on but not considered particularly queer.

I wondered, during South Downs, whether any boy could have discussed Pope’s poetry with the sophistication offered by Blakemore, and (since I was amongst the most eager literary boys at our school) whether I could have. I doubt it. I think Blakemore’s discussion of religion might ring truer: at that time, any student of history had a glancing understanding of the doctrinal rows of the 16th Century.

Hare gets very right, I think, the irritation of a bright boy with the rules of such a school – indeed any school and most institutions. To be fair to him, and this is central to this marvellous piece, John Bakemore is no cipher. Indeed, he is a wonderfully drawn boy. His intelligence, his understanding of his own predicament, his impotence in dealing with it, his random kindness, cruelty and vulnerability are all very moving. And so too, finally, are the responses he draws from all those around him.

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