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Arts and Entertainment

Hope and Glory's End in 'The Standard Bearer' at SFS Theatre

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Neil Dickson is The Standard Bearer (Photo: Judy Geeson)
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By the time a B-list Shakespearean actor in a soiled and sweat-stained suit peers out from backstage to start Stephen Wyatt's play "The Standard Bearer," any vestiges of British cultural hegemony have long since collapsed. Addressing us as an audience of students in early-1980s West Africa, the poor sod apologizes for making us wait, but assures us that his wife will be joining him in a moment to perform an evening of the Bard's soliloquies and dramatic scenes, presented by the local British consulate. While he waits for her to arrive, he delivers as much of the show's prepared material as he can by himself, interspersing these segments with maudlin bits of small talk about his personal background and the once-grand tradition of touring English theatrical productions in the colonies.

As it becomes obvious that his wife is not going to show up, we see that the man's own identity has dwindled in vitality along a track roughly parallel to the diminishment of mighty Britannia's imperial potency. A latter-day counterpart to the degraded English music hall performer Archie Rice in John Osborne's old classic "The Entertainer," this unnamed actor ends up haplessly seeking his audience's validation not merely of his performance but of his enterprise itself.

Neil Dickson, the actor who play the actor, generates considerable laughs and pathos from his protagonist's embarrassing position. Toward the end of the play's 55 or so minutes, after he acknowledges his inability to provide a satisfactory theatrical evening, he momentarily wishes his audience a better show, and better Shakespeare, the next time a British production passes through town. His speculation a moment later, though, that this was probably the last performance of its kind resonates with all the rueful solemnity of an individual's, and an empire's, fall from grace.

"The Standard Bearer," directed by Julian Sands, plays Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 through November 12. Tickets $22 ($13.50 for some performances using promo code 008), $18 for students and seniors, through plays411.net.