Review: Lord Dismiss Us (theSpace @ Surgeons' Hall)
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
Greetings to you, ladies and gentlemen, and a warm welcome to this review of “Lord Dismiss Us”, which is being performed by a fine cast of young lads from Boys of the Empire Productions in the splendid venue next to the Surgeons' Hall. Set during in 1950s England while the Wolfenden Report caused scandal for recommending the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, it focuses more closely on school boys and their relationships in a society that doesn’t accept them.
The story itself follows Terry Carleton, a bright lad with hidden desires, and his friends, as well as looking at the complex life of the teachers and their relationships. So, a bit like “Good Will Hunting”. And “The History Boys”. And a bit of “The Prime of Jean Brodie”. The setting, themes and relationships are not phenomenally original, it is true, or rather not phenomenally unique, seeing as the Michael Campbell novel on which it is based was written before any of these examples, though since this is the novels first stage adaptation it is fairly likely that these associations will spring to mind. However, there is a lovely nostalgic feeling to the production. Old trunks are scattered about the stage, the uniforms are perfectly crisp and traditional, moments such as sniggering naughtily during the head teacher’s speech, there’s even a clever reference to the boarding school tradition of fagging.
At the heart of it all is a really sweet love story. The first two acts focus more on the ever growing relationship between Carleton, played by Joshua Oakes-Rogers and junior pupil Nicolas Allen, played by Joe Bence, as they fall for each other, try to spend as much time together, but start to crumble under the pressure of fear for being caught and the social pressure to suppress their feelings. The third act takes on a darker tones, focusing more on English teacher Mr. Ashley, played by Tom Lloyd, and a sense of hopelessness about feeling misunderstood and suppressed. It’s a really nice blend from a close up on a relationship, into an examination of attitude that still exist today. Though the pacing of this transition was very smooth, I did find that the relationship between Carleton and Allen skipped a few steps and felt rushed at times, but never so much that it got in the way of enjoying seeing it blossom.
Oakes-Rogers performance does not take the route usually explored in plays with LGBTQ+ themes, whereby the protagonist is unsure of their emotions, but rather he is certain of how he feels and makes no attempt to change himself. This was a nice break, but it also added to the endearing nature of his character. Not just endearing actually, lovable. Kind, sweet, vulnerable, you instantly fall for his gentle nature in a ruthless and pressurising environment, especially in emotionally difficult scenes such as when he had to witness Allen being beaten. Lloyd also delivers a very strong performance as the inspirational, rule-breaking teacher with personal battles, demonstrating over time his loss of patience and hope.
Glenn Chandler’s direction perfectly weaves different tones into each scene, flowing into one another to create a solid narrative and relationships you can believe in, without frilly directorial concepts. There were times when the fourth wall was broken that felt somewhat out of place (not frequent enough to make it consistent, too frequent to be ignored), but other than that the story felt naturally progressive. “Lord Dismiss Us” won’t win any awards for being surprising or unusual, but fans of the genre will find a polished production with sublime performances. It’s a sure-fire crowd pleaser, and I walked away with a smile. Four stars.