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Progress Theatre - The Demon Headmaster

29th December 2004 to 8th January 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Subversion in the schoolroom

Progress Theatre: The Demon Headmaster, from Wednesday, December 29 to Saturday, January 8

Dinah Glass is a newcomer to St Campion’s School and finds it a very bizarre and disquieting place.

For a start, none of the pupils play the usual rowdy games in the playground and mysteriously prefer to spend their time standing in circles memorising and reciting facts and multiplication tables.

From the outside it’s every school leaders dream, a place where pupils willingly intone the mantra, “He is a marvellous man and this is the best school I’ve ever been to”.

However, Dinah’s new foster brothers Harvey and Lloyd appear to be afraid of the head and she realises why when she confronts him.

Tall and thin in his black gown and dark glasses he isn’t a very comfortable character to be with and it becomes clear to the astute Dinah that he possesses a remarkable and possibly terrifying gift – the power to hypnotise.

Nevertheless there are five that cannot be hypnotised and in defiance of the head they form a group called SPLAT, The Society For The Protection Of Our Lives Against Them.

No longer is it just a school matter – the demonic headmaster’s ultimate ambition is to hypnotise the whole country and a television programme, The Great School Quiz, hosted by ‘zany’ Eddie Hair offers the perfect opportunity.

It’s refreshing, in this Potter-obsessed culture, to see a new play that still operates within the traditional school literature canon yet has the mettle to gently subvert it.

Taken from Gillian Cross’ novel and adapted by Adrian Flynn The Demon Headmaster is certainly a good choice for the Progress. Apart from being immense fun it offers the younger members of the theatre group the chance to prove their worth and develop their skills.

The adults take on the supporting roles, prefects and teachers, and apart from the chilling Demon Headmaster and slapstick Eddie, have little input into the proceedings.

As director Ali Carroll points out, with “more than 25 adolescents, a small stage” and “over 30 scenes”, it could easily have been a disaster.

However, it all works perfectly and no doubt we shall see more than one or two of the adolescent cast in future Progress productions.