Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Theatre Review: South Downs

by Tim MacBain

(image by Rob Porter)
This term, I have been fortunate enough to work with Mr McCrohon and a large group of Year 9s and 10s on the play South Downs by David Hare. Although not mentioned in the play, Hare’s schooling at Lancing College had a large influence on the writing of the piece (both from a pupil and master perspective) and the plot, as well as the title itself. 

South Downs is a play about the trials of maturing in an all-boy boarding school in the 1960s, and the ways in which the central character, Blakemore, deals with being different to the others, with the help of a prefect, Duffield.

Mr McCrohon put it rather well when he first approached me about being in the play: “South Downs is a play where very little actually happens. But what does happen resonates, stays with the audience, and leaves them buoyed at the end.” This sums the entirety of South Downs up nicely; it isn’t some piece of impenetrable Shakespeare, or some utterly baffling Berkoff. It does what it says on the tin, and the audience, quite frankly, enjoys that.

Mr McCrohon’s decision to act the play out promenade (walking around a building, to you and me) around the Upper Junior School was daunting, seeing as we didn’t really know exactly when the audience would see us (until they appeared), but it worked very well,  really giving the impression of the transience of school life, from one fleeting moment to the next.
(image by Rob Porter)

The cast was mainly made up of Year 9 boys, with two Year 10 girls playing the mothers of Blakemore and Duffield. Robert Merriam, as Blakemore, put in a wonderfully subtle performance, conveying how ruthlessly intellectual, but also how socially inept and immature the character was. The Duffield of Jack Shahran was immaculate, oozing confidence; I did feel like I was dealing with a political figure of the future during my scene with him! However, these two are only two of the many performances that shone; the rest of the cast put in so much, developed their characters a great deal, and worked so hard to make the performance a success, that it would be unfair not to give them a mention.

(image by Rob Porter)
 I was asked to join the cast because my character, a housemaster, needed a discernible age difference from the boys. However, I did not feel that I was older than the cast, nor that they were less accomplished than me; on the contrary, at times I felt dwarfed by the sheer enthusiasm and thought they brought to the process. I have rarely enjoyed a play in its entirety, from first rehearsal to performance, so much. Thank you all for that.

It would be extremely remiss of me not to thank our patient and brilliant director, Mr McCrohon, for his time, enthusiasm and artistry, without which the play would not have been what it was. We are also indebted to Emily Bustard and Jack O’Leary for their technical skills, and for Mrs Filho for overseeing the whole project.

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