Perhaps the first thing to say about John Dighton’s play The Happiest Days of Your Life is how much fun it remains more than 60 years after its creation. A boys’ school finds itself forced, with virtually no notice, to house the staff and pupils of St Swithin’s – a girls’ school, whose buildings were flattened in the Second World War. Cue petty arguments and naughty tricks between the sexes, romantic attachments and good old fashioned comic farce, especially when one set of boys’ parents and one set of girls’ parents turn up, and every attempt is made to keep them in the dark.
So far, so St Trinian’s, you may be thinking. Yes and no. The play in fact precedes the St Trinian’s films. The film version of The Happiest Days of your Life was a great hit in 1950, starring Alastair Sim, Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell amongst others, and out of this success came the St Trinian’s films (I remember loving them as a boy), in which both Sim and Grenfell again starred.
The Studio Theatre Club have done a fine job in bringing the play to life in the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon. The limited stage space was occasionally just a bit too tight for the mad-cap goings on, but despite this the cast caused lots of laughter amongst the audience, and the comic timing was often excellent. The main performers were uniformly good, with my personal favourites being Holly Bathie as Miss Gossage, the jolly hockey sticks teacher who inevitably falls for disconcerted bachelor Mr Billings (equally impressively played by Dan Bond), and Rainbow (Tom Fenton), porter, groundsman, and general dogsbody who spends most of the evening being told to do one thing and then reverse what he’s just done.
There are plenty of good lines for the cast to make merry with. ‘It plays havoc with my grammar’ says the bewildered headmaster. ‘He went off very suddenly,’ said of an absent Mr Gun. And ‘what a load of tapioca!’ which sounds authentically 1950s schoolgirl to my male ear. So go along to the lovely old Abbey building in the oldest town in the country (that is the claim on the Abbey walls), and enjoy the fun!