It has become standard procedure to scandalise even the most wholesome of relationships. Particularly in our celebrity culture, we rummage through the scraps of inconsequential evidence to piece together tales of lust and sordid deceit in the hopes of eliciting cheap thrills from our peers. Glenn Chandler’s romance Sandel controversially infuses a pair of lovers with a complex blend of platonic, sexual and familial love yet confidently retains a steadfast purity. Refreshingly, the often salacious themes of homosexuality and pederasty fade into obscurity as the beauty of young love, in its myriad forms, shines gem-like in the cavernous Above The Stag theatre.
David Rogers, an undergraduate at Oxford University in the 1960s, jokes in his dormitory with fellow student Bruce Lang, about the new boys at the nearby choir school. Although, rather than ridiculing these younger boys, they discuss their varying levels of charm and appeal. Bruce is training to become a Catholic priest though and must live vicariously through David’s sexual escapades. The flippancy of this adolescent setup halts when David happens upon Antony Sandel, one of the new choirboys. Through a series of chance encounters, David and Antony carefully weave a secret relationship, telling the school’s staff that they are in fact half-brothers. Over the course of two years, pressures mount as David finds himself placed as a teacher in Antony’s school and the pair inevitably grow complacent, making plans that endanger their covert romance.
Sandel’s charming trio of actors beautifully portrays believable wide-eyed youth while handling difficult social situations with admirable maturity. The transition from innocence to experience underpins the plot while the set, a group of teetering stained glass windows and bookshelves, portrays the universal struggle between religious teaching and contemporary forward thinking. Joseph Lindoe, as David Rogers, carries the show with wonderfully understated confidence. His appreciation for the script’s subtleties and the internal conflict between head and heart are shown with real clarity. Sandel, played by Ashley Cousins, is given a seraphic inquisitiveness that is marvellously counteracted by Calum Fleming as the comically omniscient Bruce. The fast and bouncy dialogue ricochets between the three with dizzying wit that adds an appropriate humour to this otherwise rather heavy subject.
Despite having been written half a century ago, this play still has an undeniable social significance. It grapples with preconceived notions of what is an acceptable relationship and produces a surprising and persuasive response. A clever concoction of British sarcasm and candid emotion, Sandel dissects an unconventional pairing and urges its audience to accept love in whatever form it takes.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Sandal is playing at Above The Stag until 14 June 2014. Click here for tickets.
Written and directed by Glenn Chandler
Based on the novel by Angus Stewart