Excerpted from Radio Times, November 7, 1979:
In his book The Enemies of Promise Old Etonian Cyril Connolly writes of school friends who meet again as adults. He observed that they always look at each other as if to say ‘I won’t tell on you if you don’t tell on me’. Indeed, for those who did not attend a public school, the experience is shrouded in mystique. Like survivors of war atrocities the ex-inmates of these peculiar institutions are reluctant to let on. Only the 60s film If… has given the public an inkling how the so-called ‘privileged’ are educated. Sadly, though, I feel that much of that film’s impact was lost through its self-indulgent, anarchic, blow-out finale. Frederic Raphael has written a more authentic rendition of the public school experience in School Play.
Set within an unnamed public school and with no visible adult roles, the pupils are acted by adults. It is a ploy which, intentionally or not, shows the behavioral similarities between boys within the public school system and adults in our various institutions and corporations.
The story begins with a new boy, Rose, undergoing the ritualistic wearing-down process imposed on every new ‘grunt’ – school slang for boy. Gratuitously insulted by his elders from monitors downwards, the intellectual Rose suffers from the most terrifying schoolboy nightmare of them all — falling afoul of the group. He is accused of sneaking on another boy who subsequently gets beaten.
Rose, played by Michael Kitchen, has one sympathetic ally, the cavalier and cynical Treasurer (Denholm Elliott), who is second monitor to the house captain (Jeremy Kemp). The play also features an ambitious disciplinarian, Perkins (Tim Pigott-Smith), and an unlikely beautiful cook (Jenny Agutter) with an unorthodox sexual penchant.
Being clever, Rose extricates himself from his victim role and by the last scene the cycle is complete. Rose, now a monitor, has become as brutal as those he originally feared and despised — so endorsing Saki’s observation: ‘You can’t expect a boy to be really vicious until he’s been to a good public school.’
The third harsh depiction of school life that Michael Kitchen starred in during the 70s. Depressing stuff, but not nearly as depressing as the outlook for US public education and the separation of church and state with the confirmation today of another appalling cabinet pick.