The demon headmaster has not graced the television sets of the nation for a number of years, however from the 7th to the 9th of February he returned with a vengeance to Cranleigh School in the form of the fearsome Mr Godfrey Pond (Will Heath) in the North house play “The Happiest Days of Your Life”. Dispatching New Boys (played by Ben Strickland) with a gleeful malice, Heath’s dark intensity rendered even the most menial of tasks (such as reading out a telegram) as chillingly sinister. He was complemented superbly by the consummately dramatic Abi Frett, playing a whimsically delusional Games Mistress whose 1940s with her wonderfully eccentric eel-like running jodhpurs. Even when not delivering upper class obscurities in a regal drawl that would put Radio Four’s (and the rest of the world’s) rather more considered approach to communication to shame, her every movement, be it spontaneous or rehearsed, was attended with raucous laughter from a captivated audience. If, for Heath, a telegram was an opportunity to terrify, for Frett it was the chance to exhale, inhale, cough, splutter, mutter something (no doubt about ponies), knock a cricket bat over, exhale again, and finally to deliver the line to the audience in a performance that was the epitome of “The Actress”.
In the midst of these theatrics it is quite a wonder that romance was able to blossom between the sweetness of Sophie Kinally’s Miss Joyce Harper and the sweaty palms of Johnny Paddle’s Mr Dick Tassel. However, despite the unwanted interruptions of Barbara Cahoun (Tessa Lenselink) and the distinctly bachelor to bachelor advice of the even sweatier palmed Dr Rupert Billings (Fin Chesterman) whose nasal tones and rather feminine sobriquet attracted the passionate attentions of Miss Gossage, it did. Miss Evelyn Whitechurch (Millie Black) had her work cut out trying to build somewhat dubious bridges between the frocked and softly spoken parents’ of St Swithin’s School for Girls (Will Day and Hugh Ferrey) and the more forceful parenting tactics of Edgar Sowter (Harry Yates), a parent of Hillary Hall school for Boys, whose unbridled fury at the womanisation of his son could have had more to do with the suspiciously masculine nature of his wife, Mrs Sowter, who was played by Alex Robertson in the misleading curls of a blonde wig.
The play ended with the imminently apocalyptic arrival of a third school, for “troubled children”. The headmaster mobilised The Groundsmen, headed by a character called “Rainbow” who was played by Toby Saville and equipped with a broom that outshone its master as it seemed intent on sweeping no matter the occasion and continued to undulate suggestively even when restrained with two hands. Each Groundsmen met the oncoming threat with a suitably arable war cry apart from Harry Dear who took idiomatic to the point of incomprehensibility with his hilarious West Country burr.
The final mention must go to Tom Taylor, Luke Boyd and Will Setterfield whose directing made such an outstanding gem of comedic theatre possible.
Adam Van Schaik (LVI, East)