A beautifully bittersweet play about homosexuality and homophobia, Lord Dismiss Us has comic clout and pertinence.
When the new headmaster of a “failing” English boarding school takes over, his quest to rid the school of “indecency” has tragic consequences, in Lord Dismiss Us.
Homophobia is horrible. Is It Safe to be Gay in the UK? was more than harrowing if you happened to catch it. Having been a victim of two homophobic hate crimes in London in the last five years myself, one of which was an assault where I ended up off work for two weeks with a concussion, I can say first hand that it’s really not pleasant: and I’ve gotten away damn lightly compared to others. So what can a play based on a book written in 1967 really say about homophobia?
Michael Campbell’s celebrated novel was written in a time when homosexuality was still illegal, making homophobia a public duty! But his story about young love and gay resistance in an English boarding school is far more comedy than tragedy, finding a sweet elements of laughter between the shenanigans and the struggles. Adapted by Glenn Chandler, who created much loved TV series Taggart, Lord Dismiss Us is a campy romp that’s has airs of a gay The Belles of St. Trinians. But this isn’t some saucy schoolyard titter-fest: it’s a tender, human, and wonderful piece about love and resilience. Not only are there umpteen sharp and witty quips, including some classic innuendos and saucy farce moments, but all of its characters are well rounded and deep rather than comedic caricatures. You actually care about their struggles and feel the danger of being on the wrong side of society.
With regards to Lord Dismiss Us’ adaption, having not read the book I really couldn’t say how well it’s been adapted. The only issue I have with the text is that there are some moments, like the sudden inclusion of spoken diary entries, that feel a little clunky. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it just feels a tad awkward. But ultimately, it’s a small niggle rather than a big issue.
As much as Lord Dismiss Us could be angry or maudlin about homophobia, especially as it doesn’t shy from the tragedy it can cause, it’s a real celebration of being who you are. Lord Dismiss Us has an old-school “it gets better” lilt that will leave you elated and with tears of laughter, although also with a couple of tears born from its more bitter side.
Direction and Production
As much as I’d love to congratulate the casts’ performances in the usual section, I would like to, instead, talk about production. Again, like with Sweetmeat concessions will be made by the very nature that this is an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, and you can never expect a full-blown production. However, I don’t have any major criticisms to offer. Sure, there’s the small details like having the sound effect of an approaching English steam train that suddenly breaks into an American diesel horn, but it would be churlish to get hung up on things like that.
With the standard of Chandler’s text being so solid, it’s easy to imagine this on the West End. Therefore, it’s also easy to fantasise how slick and wonderful the show could be with full staging. But the fact is that the direction and production of Lord Dismiss Us still manages to be pacey and (train whistles/horns aside) issue free, making you forget that the resources behind this are probably quite limited. To get the energy spot on, and for the production to feel so slick despite its fringe limitations, is a real feat and deserves to be highly commended.
At the end of the day, all of this comes from what appears to be a real passion for the text and the project. It’s an earnesty and understanding that carries Lord Dismiss Us beyond its already solid production values. For a show that I thought would be more end of the pier than a deep and rousing play, it made me well up and stick with everything from start to finish, leaving with a big smile on my face and slightly wet eyes.
Lord Dismiss Us is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s valedictorian: an all-round funny, moving, and generally excellent play.