Review - 'I'm quite showy. Ostentatious'

20th September 2013 at 01:00
Fly-on-the-wall series meets students at elite Harrow School

There is a Tarquin. Of course there is a Tarquin. The latest episode of the fly-on-the-wall documentary Harrow: A Very British School is focusing on school performances: musical, theatrical and choral. But particularly theatrical. And so, of course, there is a Tarquin.

Tarquin is a bit-player, though. For the third episode of the Sky 1 documentary, which charts a year in the life of #163;33,285-a-year Harrow School, the limelight belongs to Shrai.

Seventeen-year-old Shrai is the first student in what everyone refers to as "a very long time" to direct his boarding house's annual play. The play is a 1920s farce called Rookery Nook; Shrai says things like, "You're losing the characterisation. Be Gertrude."

Clearly, this is not Educating Yorkshire. Where the Channel 4 series has Kayleigh and Bailey arguing over the fair punishment for being caught smoking on school premises, Harrow has new boy Andreas discussing his role as a music scholar.

"I'm quite showy," the 13-year-old says. "Ostentatious is the word. We learned that in Latin. From 'ostendo' - to show. I show." Pause. "That was really geeky."

There are lots of these asides to camera throughout the programme. Students and teachers are forever asking to start again, or insisting that what they said was all wrong. It is rather endearing, if somewhat mannered.

Andreas is among the choristers auditioning for a solo in the Churchill Songs, an all-school concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London every five years. He sings well, but the director of music (this is the hallmark of a posh school: the head of music is a director) decides that his voice is too close to breaking to last the rehearsal distance.

Andreas insists that he did not want the role, anyway. "It went on a bit," he says of the concert, where 5,000 audience members paid up to #163;250 for a ticket. "It was all right. The main fact was that I needed the loo from the start."

Meanwhile, back in the (slightly) smaller school theatre, Shrai has decided to incorporate a flapper dance into his play. Using the near- professional budget at his disposal, he recruits the services of a choreographer. Or a "lady choreographer", as one of the teachers calls her.

Shrai also starts flouncing. A lot. "I'm fed up with your laughing, your incessant chatting," he tells Tarquin, while a boy in a dress tries very hard not to fondle his own fake breasts. "I can't deal with unprofessionalism." Then, to a stage hand: "You need to stop being so heavy-handed with the paint."

But the programme does not mock its subjects. Yes, they are posh and privileged, and a little bit camp. But they are also dedicated, hardworking and human. Credit is due to the documentary makers for having the restraint to allow this to shine through.

Harrow: A Very British School, Wednesdays at 8pm on Sky 1.

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