Excellent performances and some sublime direction

Review by Paul Nelson

FRANK Williams has a theatrical pedigree as long as the proverbial arm. As a stage actor and, lately, a television star, he is probably the last person you would think of as a playwright of note.

Thinking that you would be seriously wrong.

After four thrillers for the stage, two of which have enjoyed national tours, he has come up with a play of such emotional nostalgia for a bygone era, that of being a pupil at a public school during WW2, and with such poetic power, you can hardly believe that he received his major plaudits as the ludicrous Rev. Timothy Farthing, vicar of Walmington-on-Sea, in the television sit-com Dad's Army (pictured below).

In The Playing Fields, Mr Williams has written a most tender play. It deals with chain connection at a public school. The main link with the past and the present is the study of one of the prefects which was, prior to the present occupant, Raleigh, occupied by Durham, his hero, who unfortunately was shot down serving in the RAF.

The study has a haunting effect due to its previous occupants and indeed, affects the audience.

Durham was Kingsley's fag, Raleigh was Durham's fag, and now Elliott is Raleigh's fag. Young Elliott has a family history of his antecedents being pupils at the school.

The play takes place during three school terms running up to prefect Raleigh leaving, knowing he will have to join up, and already has his eye on the RAF.

It becomes a matter of supreme honour that the school takes the lead in the rugby stakes and, more important during the summer term, that they win the cup for cricket, a feat which has not been achieved during Raleigh's school years.

With school bullying, perversions and attraction to the same sex, the story unfolds in an almost melancholic way, but it ultimately grabs the audience by the very fact that it is about duty, obedience, faithfulness and love.

My eyes were hardly dry due to my own experiences as someone's fag, and how near I came to literally becoming a whipping boy for what was candidly a sadist.

They are all here in this play, everyone with whom you ever went to school, and cleverly the entire tapestry is painted by the author with only four actors.

At the beginning of the play Kingsley, currently in the RAF, is discovered by Raleigh in his study, he is on a nostalgia trip, the study used to be his. New boy, Elliott, is chosen to be Raleigh's fag. Raleigh is something of a moderate and liberal pacifist, though he realises he will have to join up on leaving school.

Elliott's father is currently a P.O.W. in Singapore.

As a catalyst to all this is Groves. He has been through all the schoolboy crushes, has grown out of them and is perennially lusting for female companionship.

It would be totally unfair of me to divulge the subtle plot, which is intricate and fascinating, but the admission by Raleigh, that he may be 'queer', the acceptance by Groves that this is a reaction to circumstances, and the ultimate reassurance by Kingsley that he is not alone, make many moving occasions.

The performances are excellent.

The direction is sublime.

The set will take those older public schoolboys back to when, and those who were never at public school envy them.

It is having a surprisingly long run so far as the Wimbledon Studio is concerned, proof that the management are sure they have quality on their hands.

I really do urge you to try to get a ticket. The play deserves a post Studio after life, it should be a commercial success, but catch it now.

The Playing Fields by Frank Williams, Directed by Peter Kosta, Designed by Peter Kosta, Lighting by Kevin James, WITH: Patrick Myles (Kingsley), Philip Hayden (Raleigh), Ben Boorman (Elliott), Dan McSherry (Groves). Produced by Pan Arts and presented at the Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19. Tickets 020 8540 0362.

RELATED LINKS: Click here for The Wimbledon Studio Theatre website...