Go back to school with Latin!

Stage
As you enter the Burton Taylor for Latin! or Tobacco and Boysexpect to feel the discomfort that accompanies one of those ‘back at school’ nightmares as you are seated at the benches of a class that, unless you’re a classicist, you’ll have no idea about. Don’t worry though, because the script and acting are brilliantly timed and create a natural dialogue between audience and actor immediately.The actor in question is Barnaby Iley-Williamson, playing Dominic, the young, rather sensitive Latin teacher at a prestigious boys’ school, who finds himself blackmailed by a rival teacher, played by Louis Fletcher, over a relationship with a student. And yes, this play is rife with all the repressed (or otherwise) homosexuality that set up suggests. Did I mention this was Stephen Fry’s first play? Iley-Williamson is endearingly comic from the moment he steps onstage, moving from authoritarian to flustered with a wince, while perfectly capturing the accent and intonation of the time. Looking little more than a boy himself, clean shaven as opposed to the sinister moustachioed Fletcher, his interaction with the audience is peerless. He is so obviously the sympathetic hero that lines like “I find pleasure between the thighs of a young boy, under-fifteen, blonde… willing,” are rather glanced over, but the darker implications about just why Dominic became a school master are unsettling, even if the play tries hard not to dwell on that. The director, Fiamma Mazzocchi Alemanni aims to leave the audience with “a faint smile and controversial thoughts,” which she will certainly accomplish, even if the touches of darkness in the piece occasionally beg for greater exploration and a little more gravity.Fletcher as the villain of the piece Brookshaw is so startlingly menacing I feel he wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film, complete with white fluffy cat. His style works, though occasionally dramatic moments tip into farce without much warning. When Fletcher and Iley-Williamson are onstage together they work together magnificently, which is why I would recommend sitting further back in the stalls – anyone in the front row, while benefiting from involvement in the masterful teaching scenes, may get a crick in their neck as the actors make free use of the aisle. The setting has been lovingly brought to life with a series of period details in the costuming and set which should thoroughly involve the audience in proceedings wherever they sit. Overall, this is very funny fare, and, like the book which exposes Dominic’s guilt, full of merits.

4 stars.

Frankie Goodway
PHOTO/Adam Levy