BBC Radio 4, 27 June 2012
Historically speaking, the English have always appeared to have
hang-ups about sex. Either they don't talk about it at all, or rather joke about it in an overt way that suggests some
inner guilt; that the subject-matter is somehow taboo.
Lord Behold Us offered a convincing explanation as to why that might me
the case. Narrated by Pat (Bryony Hannah), a young woman in her mid-twenties, it began with her confessing to listeners that
sex with her new-found partner was particularly unexciting. She tried to account for this by recalling events that took place
in 1958. Her brother Michael (George Hill) had been auditioned for the school production of The Merchant of Venice
by English teacher Mr. Dawson (Tom Riley). Mr. Dawson had liked Michael's voice so much that he recommended that the boy should
have singing lessons. However Pat and Michael's father (Peter Wight), a successful lawyer and governor at Michael's school,
seemed particularly opposed to the idea on the grounds that singing was "unmanly."
As the action unfolded, we discovered that Father's preoccupation with "manliness"
was due to insecurity; he could not contemplate alternative constructions of sexuality. Meanwhile he considered it perfectly
legitimate to have an affair with his female secretary. Mr. Dawson's career at the school - as well as his entire future - was
threatened by some shocking revelations about his private life. However the head teacher Mr. Gardner (Nicholas Boulton) stood
up for his employee, and Dawson returned - albeit briefly - to the school before beginning a new life in Canada. Unlike Pat's
father, Dawson had few hang-ups about sexuality; but he had to leave Britain altogether to pursue his chosen lifestyle.
Celia de Wolff's production portrayed a repressive society, in which few of its members
had any real freedom of expression. They were expected to conform to pre-existing constructions of "masculine" and "feminine"
behaviour; anyone who challenged such norms was considered a social threat. As a result young people like Pat grew up to hate
everything to do with sex.
One would like to think that the atmosphere is more liberal in contemporary Britain;
but the fact that Howarth's play still touched a raw nerve suggested that this might not be the case.