Forty Years On (play)

Forty Years On (play)

"Forty Years On" is a 1968 play by Alan Bennett. It was his first West End of London play.


The play is set in a British public school called 'Albion House' which is putting on an end of term play in front of the parents i.e. the audience. The play within the play is about the changes that had happened to England (Albion House) following the end of the Great War in 1918 and the loss of innocence and a generation of young men.


The first production of "Forty Years On" opened at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue and was an immediate success. The school's headmaster was played by Sir John Gielgud with other leads played by Paul Eddington, Alan Bennett, Dorothy Reynolds, Nora Nicholson and Robert Swann. The play was directed by Patrick Garland and the musical director was Carl Davis.

Alan Bennett, as he has proved in subsequent plays and films, has an almost unique ability to blend a mourning for an England that is gone forever with superb wit and irreverent humour. Audiences used to seeing Sir John Gielgud playing classic roles relished his lightness of touch, as the school's headmaster, and his brilliant delivery of some of the best dialogue and speeches written for the West End stage.

The young actors who played the twenty or so schoolboys were an integral part of the play and received excellent reviews. Only two or three have gone on to make a name for themselves in film and television including actor turned composer, George Fenton, who has written numerous music scores for films such as "Gandhi", "Cry Freedom", "A Handful of Dust", "Shadowlands" and, recently, Alan Bennett's film version of his play, "The History Boys"; Anthony Andrews, who played Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited; and [ Merlin Ward] who became well-known in the TV soap, "Crossroads", and went on to write and direct the schoolgirl thriller, "Out of Bounds", starring Sophia Myles.

In the mid-1980s, "Forty Years On" was revived with Paul Eddington playing the role of the headmaster. Relatively unknown in 1968, when the play first opened, Paul Eddington had become famous for his role in the television comedy series "The Good Life" and a true star when he took on the lead in the brilliant comedy series, "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" opposite Nigel Hawthorne (who went on to star in Alan Bennett's "The Madness of George III", directed by Nicholas Hytner). The part originally played by Eddington was played in this production by Stephen Fry.

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