The first play in the East House double-bill was ‘Trammel’ (2009) by Michael Lesslie, a hard-hitting play about the public school system and its doctrines and values, though written from a point of view about such schools that owed as much to ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ as to the reality of the 21st century. This play was directed by Cranleigh School’s Theatre Artist in Residence, Lizzie Bourne, whose experienced theatrical vision was especially evident in scenes such as the CCF night exercise and the use of the black boxes in the many scene changes. A large and talented cast was led by Charlie Adorian as the boy who tries to drop his ‘innit’ to win it, only to eventually return home expelled, where he oversees the kicking to near-death of a former fellow boarder. Charlie brought a touching vulnerability to the part which transcended the limitations of the script.
Will Jenkins was hugely impressive as Head of House and by himself justified putting this play on in a public school, as one imagines that most or all of the many previous productions have been by outsiders to the system. This was perfect casting, as Will played the part with a straight bat, allowing the audience to ponder whether there is something inherently rotten in the education system, or whether the virtues and vices of all systems are dependent on the individuals within them. Adam Barker was a boiling inferno as his successor; for me this was the most compellingly fascinating character of the whole evening: his cruel taunting of the young gay pupil certainly suggested a poisonous repression of his own sexuality and his ambition and jealousy were given real intensity through the physical as well as the vocal acting.
Ben Durston was terrifying as the new breed of public school bully: a rich Russian, implying how certain types can adapt easily into any hierarchical system if they have the money to be accepted. Ben’s military experience added authenticity to the CCF scenes. James Wootten gave a sensitive performance as Unsworth: with the two opposite worlds of the play both being violently homophobic a tragic end was inevitable. As Davis’s (one of the schoolmasters) daughter Anoushka Muir’s confident acting gave us another angle on the atmosphere of an all boys’ public school.
It is not possible to name all seventeen of the cast in this review but there were no weak links in the chain: each actor contributed to the success of the production. It is never easy, though, for our pupils to act the part of ‘chavs’ (the playwright’s street characters seemed as stereotyped as his boarders), though I felt Murdo Elwis was the most natural in his street swagger. Perhaps the playwright did imply subtly by the absence of adult characters that the violence of language and action we witnessed is partly because adults allow their children to rule the streets and Bates the Housemaster delegates too much responsibility to his House Captain Jeremy.
The tiny scenes made this play ripe for film adaptation but difficult to act and the director and cast are to be commended for making the play seem rather better than it actually is. They were strongly supported in their efforts for both plays by Mark Jenkins and some very experienced East techies: George Edwards, James Edwards, Oscar Hibbert, Tom Berry and Chris Dawes.