Sandel

Fri 2nd – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Lise McNally

at 01:40 on 21st Aug 2013

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Glenn Chandler’s beautiful rendition of Angus Stewart’s 1968 novel is first and foremost a funny and touching love story. Sensitive and stylish, the play’s examination of forbidden love between a young teacher and a choirboy is topical and interesting, but doesn’t force any judgements. The story which unfolds is disarmingly simple; the questions it raises are unendingly complicated.

David Rogers gives a gorgeously nuanced performance as Ryan Penny—an Oxford undergraduate-turned-teacher with a propensity to fall in love with younger men. Rogers carefully layers a repressed English charm over a touching fragility, and his nervous hesitation works intriguingly against the effervescent magnetism of his schoolboy lover, Antony Sandel. Tom Cawte’s delivery might be occasionally rather garbled and overdramatic, but he plays a convincingly youthful Sandel. His small physique acts as a punctuating reminder of the age difference between the two protagonists, and of the moral issues at stake—an aspect of their love sometimes forgotten in the face of Sandal’s persistent, even predatory, pursuit of his older, more reticent friend.

This characterisation puts aside, or at least delays, the more instinctive response to a teacher-pupil relationship, and allows the 1968 context to come to the fore. Statutory consent stalks the edges of the play’s danger, but the fact of homosexuality’s illegality settles more immediately over the play like a dark cloud, with references to schoolyard “thought police”, prison, and suicide. This creates in the experience of watching the play a wonderfully interesting tussle between the impulse to uphold standards of consent, and an earnest desire to see the central protagonists overcome the limitations of a homophobic society. The result is a beautifully complex piece of drama.

Doing full justice to the masterfully crafted script, Will Hunter’s set design allows the play to flow from scene to scene with elegant ease. An old wooden desk becomes a convincing church organ and hospital bed, and a long bench flips over to become a punt, but the recognisably classroom furniture again keeps the acute complexities of their “forbidden” love, quite literally, in the background.

I haven’t read the novel, although I certainly plan to after having seen ‘Sandel’, and so am unable to comment on the success of the play as an adaptation. But on its own merit, the production is a sincere, elegant and eminently watchable love story.

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Joshua Phillips

at 12:11 on 21st Aug 2013

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Words like “poignant,” “melancholy” and “emotionally charged” (all right, that’s two words) are batted around all too much, to the point where they lose all meaning. ‘Sandel,’ however, is a production that can justifiably be called all of these things. The story of David Rogers (Ryan Penny), an Oxford student who falls in love with an impossibly precocious young choir-boy, Tony Sandel (Tom Cawte), ‘Sandel’ is a play that is as relevant today as when the novel from which it was adapted was published. The pair initially bond over model aeroplanes and German, but events fast spiral out of control as Sandel grows older and more controlling, and the stakes grow higher.

It would be easy for ‘Sandel’ to misfire, to be unsympathetic or even monstrous, but it dodges this. The chemistry between the three characters is really what makes the play tick; it draws you into the world of David Rogers, Tony Sandel and Bruce Lang, making you view the relationship from their various perspectives, rather than simply leaving you as a detached observer. Cawte is by turns innocent and sinister as he tries to control his lover and gain a modicum of the happiness that he craves; Penny is torn between a sense of genuine affection for the child, and a growing sense of the intractability of his situation.

This pair are juxtaposed with Bruce Lang, played by Calum Fleming, a paternalistic Jesuit who acts almost as a chorus, doomed not to be listened to until it is too late. Fleming plays his role with a sense of despondent urgency: he does not want to see his friend disgraced or worse over a misplaced romance, but he knows that the pair will simply not listen to him. He does, however have some of the sharpest lines in what is already a very witty play.

Watching ‘Sandel’ is an emotional, and at times difficult, experience. At times, you are drawn into feeling deeply sympathetic towards Sandel and Rogers, even whilst you want to condemn their relationship. It is this emotional tug-of-war that make ‘Sandel’ such a compelling performance, and one that is, for all its difficulty, incredibly watchable.

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