I saw two plays recently called ‘South Downs’ by David Hare and ‘The Browning Version’ by Terrence Rattigan. Both are linked (the Hare was shown in act 1 and the Rattigan was in act 2) so although separate, they are shown as one.
South Downs is about a boy’s experience at boarding school in the 1960’s. The boy feels himself an outsider and the play explores the balance we have to strike as humans, in life, to fit in and ‘play ball’ with our fellow human beings, but to also stand alone and stand up for what we believe and be who we are. Blakemore, the boy, says: ‘I don’t like me…but it’s the character I’ve been given, and I can’t do anything about it.’
Through an act of kindness from a fellow pupil’s mother, Belinda, the boy’s situation is understood. She empathises with his concealed inner life and as an actress, talks about how life involves acting as much off stage as it does on, at times. It is the individual’s negotiation between being true to him or herself but at the same time being able to integrate enough to make the world try to see you as you are.
The Browning Version is about a retiring Headmaster who is ‘out of fashion’ with his wife and his school, from which he is about to retire. He and his wife (played by Anna Chancellor again) are mis-matched in love – they each need a different kind of love although, Millie has a malicious tongue and does nothing to try to understand her husband.
Like Blakemore in South Downs, Headmaster Andrew Crocker-Harris has a personality and style that are not seen as important or given credit to, by others. Crocker-Harris is less able to integrate into life (as you feel Blakemore is) and the price he pays for that is a high one. He is mocked and sidelined – a position he lives with and humbly accepts – which is the tragedy of his life. He is given a book by one of his pupils as a leaving gift but is later told by his wife that the same student laughed about him behind his back – the sad fact being, the student did but without the malice Millie said he did it with. So, the person closest to the Headmaster (his wife) dashes even this one hopeful event in his life.
The Headmaster holds his own – knowing what others think of him – it is almost having to pay a price in order to be steadfast and truthful. The writer of South Downs – the other play – says of himself as writer that ‘the further you have to travel, the more your imagination is stimulated’.
Both characters – Blakemore and Crocker-Harris, have to travel within themselves and within society and both come to find themselves on this journey. More fool society if it cannot accept who they are and all those like them.