Much of my ‘touring’ has been concentrated in Bristol and Chichester; there are a few other UK venues to add to the list, as well as some from my week in New York, of course.
So why doesn’t the current production of Lettice and Lovage at the Menier Chocolate Factory push my buttons? I fear it suffers from Forty Years On Syndrome – a circumstance whereby even with what seems like dream casting of Richard Wilson as an irascible headmaster, Alan Bennett’s masterly first play comes up lifeless and irrelevant at Chichester.
Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On is a curious play. His first outing as playwright (back in 1968) is charmingly eccentric, wonderfully witty and every bit a Bennett play. In fact it comes across as if the History Boys stumbled into a production of ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ and decided to join in the fun.
This 1968 revue-style play, a tapestry of national memory and mockery, affectionate nostalgia and determined revolution, encapsulates exactly that conflict in the British heart. To revive it in a Brexit year, as we grasp more urgently the dangers of harking-back by the wrong people, is a canny if risky move by the theatre’s new leader Daniel Evans.
I am inordinately fond of Forty Years On. In only my second ever trip to London, my mother took me to see the original production the year I was fifteen and therefore readily able to identify with the serge-trousered schoolboys it features in their end-of-term entertainment to mark the retirement of a long-serving headmaster.
Further casting has been announced for the opening productions of Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2017 season, FORTY YEARS ON and CAROLINE, OR CHANGE.