Tale of love between teacher and pupil is timely affair

Ryan Penny and Tom Cawte star in Sandel, which has parallels with the recent Jeremy Forrest case. Picture: Contributed
Ryan Penny and Tom Cawte star in Sandel, which has parallels with the recent Jeremy Forrest case. Picture: Contributed
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WHEN Glenn Chandler set out to bring a forgotten gay classic to the Fringe he could hardly have guessed the story would become so topical.

The creator and writer of Taggart had always wanted to create an adaptation of Sandel – Angus Stewart’s 1968 novel about an illicit love affair between a pupil and a teacher.

But the Bafta-winning writer could never have anticipated how many similarities there would be between the fictional story and that of Jeremy Forrest – the teacher jailed last month for five and a half years after a relationship with a female pupil.

“It has startling parallels with the Forrest case – and I did have people saying I should wait a year,” says Chandler, who will also be directing the production.

“But it is a faithful adaptation of the book – I am not making any moral judgements. In the book, the relationship between the two comes through as a very positive relationship.”

Edinburgh-born Chandler says he always wanted to adapt Sandel: “It is one of many gay novels I read as a teenager. I think it is beautifully written. I would put it into the same category as EM Forster’s Maurice. It is a classic of gay literature.”

The novel begins when the two main characters are 14 and 19. Antony Sandel is a choirboy, David Rogers is an undergraduate. After their relationship is discovered, Rogers is forced to leave Oxford but then becomes Sandel’s teacher – bringing them into closer proximity.

“You could argue that the guy who is the teacher should know better,” says Chandler.

“But the strange thing about the story is that the younger boy is the manipulator.

“He is the one driving it forward. And although in some ways you are expecting some kind of tragedy things don’t work out as you expect.”

At the time Sandel was written, homosexuality was still illegal. In 1967, the year before publication, it was decriminalised in England and Wales, with the age of consent set at 21, and it was not decriminalised in Scotland until 1980.

Contemporary reviews of the novel spoke positively about the love affair, with one broadsheet reviewer calling it “passionate and pure.”

The novel, which has been out of print for many years, is being reprinted by Pilot press to coincide with the production at theSpace in Edinburgh next month.

“We didn’t set out to be controversial,” says Chandler. “It is challenging but I hope it makes people think.”

• Sandel is at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall from 2-24 August (not Sunday 11th) as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, see www.edfringe.com