Dr. David Cowan
A political event widely celebrated at this year’s festival is the 50th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Though Ironically here in Edinburgh, Scotland had to wait until 1980. There is a veritable variety of shows on offer to celebrate this landmark legislation. One of the funniest on offer is Lord Dismiss Us, which rises above the comedy to offer sensitive messages about times then and now for those in, or exploring, same-sex relationships.
Lord Dismiss Us is written and directed by Glenn Chandler, and is an adaptation of Michael Campbell's novel of the same name, which came out, as one might put it, in 1967. The play is set in a boy’s boarding school seemingly rife with sexual activity among the boys, aided and abetted by the staff, comprising 14 unmarried masters. The premise of the play will bring to mind films like Lindsay Anderson’s If with Malcolm McDowell, released in 1968, and Another Country with Rupert Everett, with a little of Brideshead Revisited thrown in. However, the play escapes these parallels by proffering its own take on relationships, and giving us a slice of unique comedy.
Chandler is the creator of the wonderful TV series Taggart, and this no doubt attracted some of the audience along with his reputation as a successful stage writer and director. As the audience makes its way into the theatre they are greeted by the boys of Weatherhill School taking the register, posing the sorts of questions school masters quiz their charges with at the best of schools. We are then into the play and enveloped in a feverish sexual atmosphere under threat from a new headmaster, deftly played by the delightfully versatile David Mullen in a dual role as the effete chaplain, who has proclivities for artistic pictures of nude boys. The headmaster is determined to stamp such nonsense out and to this end he starts a purge with his wife, charmingly played by Felicity Duncan as a keen helper to her husband while ambiguously attached to the chaplain.
Caught in the middle of all this is Terry Carleton, a wonderful new talent in Joshua Oakes-Rodgers. Terry has been previously entangled with Peter Naylor, but becomes infatuated and idealistically in love with a new boy Nicholas Allen, who has arrived under something of a cloud from Eton and has plans to enter the church. Allen, played by Joe Bence with a knowing strut that seems to entice and evade Terry, leaves clandestine notes for him to communicate their relationship. Naylor, played with great range by Jonathan Blaydon, wreaks revenge on Terry in the best way a schoolboy knows, he eventually rats to the teacher.
In the midst of this increasingly fetid atmosphere, which leads to an attempted hanging and the chaplain losing his job, is the compromised master Eric Ashley, who had himself been a boy at the school of an earlier gay vintage. Ashley, sensitively played by Tom Lloyd, is caught at the nexus of master and boy, headmaster and master, just about everyone and the headmaster’s wife, as he alternately offers diplomacy and subversion. Matthew McCallion is masterful as John Steele, playing it straight in more ways than one as the military brat who wants things to be “normal” while watching out for the wayward Terry and others.
Directed by Chandler, the play hurtles towards its conclusion at a pace just short of an Orton farce, culminating in a Wildean pastiche of a school play Peter Piper and the most intentionally atrocious Canadian accent you’ll ever hear, climaxing to Terry’s proclamation of victory as a writer.