Dan Sandman

34: Forty Years On by Alan Bennett

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Plays on 19/08/2016 at 12:00 pm

Forty Years On by Alan BennettYou probably won’t have come across Alan Bennett’s 1969 play Forty Years On. It was his first West End show and follows similar themes to The History Boys, dealing comically with our anxieties about the British education system. In this early work for the stage, the target for Bennett’s satirical pen is the old British public school system, as characterized by the old-fashioned school Headmaster (originally played by John Gielgud). The comedy builds around the staging of a play within a play, of which the somewhat clownish headmaster keeps interrupting to criticize its lavatory humour. As becomes apparent, large parts of the play appear to be based around the headmaster’s life-story, revealing a darker side to the private schooling of young boys.

Upon first reading, what stands out is Bennett’s knack for writing funny lines. His approach to laughter is erudite, often drawing on his wide reading of literature and sound knowledge of wartime history for the basis of his comedy. The best lines are well put together in terms of syntax, with each word having a precise function. These jokes are intelligently placed to draw us to the playwright’s themes, which reveal an intellectual concern for Britain’s flawed education system; an arguably unfair set of divided organizations, dubiously created to reproduce the British class system.

Mr. Bennett has said that not in favour of independent schools. Like myself, he would like to see them abolished, something which our politicians are unlikely to push forward. Unfortunately, the British people continue to live in an unfairly stratified country reinforced by our schooling. But I am an optimist, and suggest that nothing is stopping us from working hard to build bridges between people from all walks of life.

Along wiser paths.


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