Simon Gray's Chekovian comedy Quartermain's Terms reveals the flip side of the 1960s. No swinging here.
Full marks then to Simon Godwin whose production, which opened at Salisbury Playhouse at the weekend, spurns any temptation to perk up the seedy atmosphere of a third rate language school staff room with easy knockabout laughs.
Staged in collaboration with the Northampton Royal and Derngate Theatres, the production concedes rather than boasts a staff room in David Farley's design reeking of faded tutelary. Here, from the depths of a crumbling armchair, Rupert Wickham's St. John Quartermaine passively surveys the lives of colleagues while his own career fades sadly away, untroubled by anything remotely resembling ambition.
Cliché is all around, from the crisp superficiality of Ian Price's deputy head Loomis to the eccentric old maid of Marty Cruickshank's Melanie Garth. Except that the cliché is pregnant with the reality of wasted lives - Loomis is destined to lose the only thing he cares for while Garth is about to commit the ultimate crime.
Against these depressing events, Jonas Armstrong's intense young Meadle cheers us all considerably while, long before Act 2, Josh Cohen has us taking bets on which moustache he will wear next.
Sophie Shaw, too, as Anita, is a sight for sore eyes amidst so much failure - and we mustn't overlook Timothy Davies' Windscape - as his less fortunate colleagues do at their peril!
The production runs at Salisbury until 1st November
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole