The Common Room Play, Terrence Rattigan’s ‘The Browning Version’, was a rare opportunity for Cranleighans to witness first-hand the skills of the common room’s most elite band of thespians. A play based around the lives of a group of schoolmasters, young and old, it was a frightening depiction of the limits of human endurance, and the emotional and psychological strain derived from the human condition.
Martin Allison gave a stunning performance as failing Classics teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris. It was both sensitive and sincere, providing the audience with a tangible sense of realism, and showing Mr Allison’s clear passion for theatre. This passion was particularly apparent in his solo moment on stage in which Andrew collapses under his emotional stress, a climactic release of tension. The audience sat in stunned silence, captivated by the poignancy of the performance. The fact that he not only starred in but also directed the play shows his continued commitment to the world of Cranleigh drama. He was expertly supported by Nikki Lockwood, whose portrayal of Andrew’s bitter wife Millie was utterly convincing. Every venomous word was delivered with precision, crafting the heart-wrenchingly callous and domineering character intended by Rattigan. Her performance showed her to be more than deserving to take on the role of the Head of the Drama Department next year following the departure of James Copp.
Mr Copp’s farewell performance at Cranleigh as Millie’s secret lover, Frank Hunter, created a united sense of both guilt and pleasure in his character. Through his heartfelt portrayal of someone with a significant internal conflict, the audience, who originally see Turner as a heartless snob, were able to both sympathise with his regret and appreciate his final decision to leave his relationship with Millie behind, thanks to a superb display of both facial acting and vocal performance.
Tim McConnell-Wood was totally credible as the school headmaster Dr Frobisher. Disregarding the almost comic ignorance of Frobisher towards Andrew’s emotional state, Mr McConnell-Wood clearly drew upon his considerable experience in order to create a notably genuine performance. Ed Griffiths’ Peter Gilbert was insightful and inspired, providing the audience with a stark contrast between two generations of teachers with very different outlooks and expectations in society. Mrs Gilbert was skilfully played by Hannah Warner, who also contributed to this sense of contrast through her youthful jubilance, clearly opposing the bored attitude of Millie.
Special mention must go to Will Day (LVth) who, despite a distinct lack of teaching qualification, blended in extraordinarily well with his senior cast mates. His performance as the frightened pupil John Taplow was both believable and, I am told, relatable for many audience members, a convincing rendition of the typical schoolboy.
The Vivian Cox Theatre is an incredibly daunting venue in which to act, and this made the performance even more impressive, given the close proximity of the audience to the action.
Thanks must also go to Mark Jenkins for his continued contribution to the technical aspects of Cranleigh productions, which are always of the highest quality. Andrew Croker-Harris may believe that ‘an anti-climax can be surprisingly effective’, but the Common Room Play was certainly a superb climax to round off the School year, and a memorable evening for all.
Ollie Clark and Ben Castle-Gibb (LVI, Cubitt)