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on 4 September 2008
The version of "Forty Years On" presented here is by far and away my favourite version. Sir John Gielgud is perfect as the retiring, slightly doddery Head Master and a young(ish) Alan Bennett is convincing as the junior master, Mr Tempest, who wishes he could put his hands on the choir's parts. Paul Eddington, Norah Nicholson and Dorothy Reynolds provide wonderful performances, as well.

It is a complex play, its play and sketches within a play needing some attention to keep up with. It is satirical but affectionate; dripping with nostalgia whilst, at the same time, gently lampooning old institutions and values. "The Breed": those perpetrators of snobbery with violence are dealt with scathingly but the passing of their times, full of certainties and standards seems regretted, although it is necessary. But it was ever thus: in the allegorical school, Albion House, as the Head Master, with his out of date standards ("standards always are out of date - that is what makes them standards") is replaced by the progressive Mr Franklin, so he rightly points out that Franklin, too, will one day be thought stuffy and old-fashioned.

The play is dense with jokes and allusions and it is a joy to be able to listen to it again and again on CD: particularly since the various scenes are indexed. There can be few better sources of one-liners, particularly in the Oscar Wilde pastiche, close to the start of the play. Although the recent "History Boys" has been seen as a return to a "school play", "Forty Years On" remains fairly unique for its Englishness, ambitions structure, its humour and its nostalgia. It is a beautiful piece of writing, beautifully performed.

The affecting monologue "A Woman of No Importance" at first seems as if it couldn't be further from the revue-like feel and ensemble playing of "Forty Years On" but there are similar themes of nostalgia and a slight sadness. Just as Albion House is now a fairly minor, unimportant Public School, so Margret Schofield is just another ordinary woman. A Woman of No Importance, as the title says, and yet, of course, everyone has their own little impact on the world and is important in their own way. Her ramblings are, of course, quite captivating, like a sort of aging, female Pooter.

Patricia Routledge's performance is very sensitive, convincing and affecting and may be the best thing that she has ever done: her Hyacinth Bucket and Vera Small characters are caricatures by comparison. And yet, for all the sadness and sensetivity, this is still a very funny and warm piece in the "Talking Heads" style that would be so successful for Alan Bennett.

A double bill to be savoured. Two gems from one of our greatest living playwrights; both superbly realised. The only downside is the way the plays are not each on their own CD, so that if you listen to "A Woman of No Importance" you are rudely jarred at the end by the opening bars of the introduction to "Forty Years On". If you wish to listen to "Forty Years On" you must skip through several tracks to do so and then change discs part way through. This is a distinct irritation and I considered deducting a star. That would be unfair to the playwright and the actors, however: these are essential recordings and the BBC's dodgy formatting cannot alter that.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2014
I purchased this double CD Audiobook to replace an old and much
loved earlier copy which I had on audio-cassette. The original
radio production starred the late Sir John Gielgud, in the role
of the Headmaster.
The product on sale here has a new cast, with Alan Bennett himself
taking the role of Head.

Set in a fictional public school, Albion House, this is a play
within a play and covers the two world wars.
It is funny, tongue in cheek and wistful, with comments typical
of headmasters that I have known.
"Remember, this is a school play, your not here
to enjoy yourselves."

The cast includes Alan Bennett, Robert Bathurst, Adam Godley and
Eleanor Bron, with boys from Kings College School, Wimbledon.
This is a BBC Radio 4 production originally broadcast in August
2000.
2 CD's total playing time 105 minutes.

For students of drama and older folk who remember the era,
this is well worth listening to.
Recommended.
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on 13 March 2002
Alan Bennett is possibly one of the BBC's best narrators. He has written and also narrated this piece with immense feeling and humour. I laughed a lot whilst listening to this and it was not just because of the way he told it. He has written other great pieces such as 'Talking Heads' and has also written about other encouters that have taken place in his life. Along with these other title this is an excellent buy and one you can listen to over and over. Others that you maybe interested in would be 'Alice in wonderland' and others that he has narrated. I must say that Alan has done a great job with this and I am now a Bennet fan.
Others you may enjoy:
'Three men in a boat' By Jerome K.Jerome
'The clothes they stood up in' Alan Bennett
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on 18 February 2014
It is what it is. It's a great play and told well. Used this for uni as it was the play we were working on and it was great to have a copy to listen to as well as read.
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on 21 June 2013
A nostalgic play about school days as they were. I took it on holiday on my mp3 and have played it several times.
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on 2 April 2013
Woman Of No Importance is the monologue of a middle-aged woman who finds company and fulfilment at work, enjoying work banter and jokes. Tragedy is revealed when she realises she has terminal cancer , only to die alone in hospital. Very moving delivery of Bennet's words by Patricia Routledge. Forty Years On is more light-hearted and involves large cast that performs with exuberence.
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on 6 November 2015
Alan Bennett as good as ever.
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on 7 August 2015
Perfect in every way.
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on 14 February 2013
I am not at all satisfied with the cds you sent me. From your advertisement *** one wd imagine that they are cds of the original John Gielgud performance, instead of which Alan Bennet plays the leading role. Can you supply me with a cd of the Gielgud version? Whether you can or not, you ought to get rid of yr misleading advertisement.

*** The version of "Forty Years On" presented here is by far and away my favourite version. Sir John Gielgud is perfect as the retiring, slightly doddery Head Master and a young(ish) Alan Bennett is convincing as the junior master, Mr Tempest, who wishes he could put his hands on the choir's parts. Paul Eddington, Norah Nicholson and Dorothy Reynolds provide wonderful performances, as well.***
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on 20 August 2014
Love it
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