It was due to open Liverpool Theatre Festival with a flourish, but Swan Song turned out instead to be an altogether more apt finale to this busy week of live performances.
Jonathan Harvey’s wily monologue was premiered at Edinburgh and at the Hampstead Theatre back in 1997 when the central character was called Di Titswell and was played by Rebecca Front.
Harvey tickled his script for the Liverpool festival to turn Di into Dave, the new version inhabited by Andrew Lancel with the kind of prissy fastidiousness and delight in brittle observation he brought to the role of Brian Clough in The Damned United, tempered with a whisper of the needy vulnerability he channelled as Brian Epstein in This Boy.
Dave is a superficially self-confident but in reality rather sad and lonely secondary school teacher; sexually repressed and the giver and receiver of derisive asides he’s a font of Alan Bennett fussiness with a hint of Victoria Wood melancholy.
Chalking up 25 years at the education coalface, Dave demolishes the fourth wall to share with the audience his views on teaching, pastoral care and school dinners, together with his gloriously awkward delusions of hipness, social pretentions, artless mispronunciations and snobbish assessments of his fellow staff members.
Bespectacled and dressed in dowdy beiges and browns, Fiat Panda-driving, cat-owning Dave is a fan of ‘Babs’ Dickson and Elaine Paige (we’re practically a whisper away from ‘do you like Nana Mouskouri’).
He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, who, when he mentions the word ‘Tories’, does so with a silent Cissy and Ada gurn.
After quarter-of-a-century of bringing education to the masses, it seems that times they are a-changing for Dave – the catalyst for that change being an eventful school trip to the Lake District.
The pathos on the page is crisply drawn out by Lancel and director Noreen Kershaw, although the monologue feels as though it needs tightening towards the end.
Photo: David Munn