Set in an Edwardian boarding school in Berkshire, that was based on the preparatory school that his own family owned and operated, Michael Wilcox’s Lent is a semi-autobiographical account of boyhood and developing sexuality. As it depicts a ‘young boy centre stage in an adult play’, the work is fraught with the preoccupations of a thirteen-year-old adolescent, superimposed within the larger and more mature themes of orphanage and abandonment, societal and financial pressures, and love and companionship. As protagonist Paul Blake builds a bond with the school’s elderly Latin master, Matey, the relationship they foster is based on mentorship, and is even familial and avuncular. However, there is an ambiguously homoerotic dimension to their interaction, though it is concealed by Paul’s lack of self-awareness and misunderstanding of his own sexuality, along with the careful self-control and self-denial of Matey.
Wilcox’s play takes place in a bygone era, and in an enclosed and inaccessible setting as the Gorse Park School; still, the uncertainties and growing pains associated with young adulthood depicted within Lent transcend these dramatic limitations, and speak clearly to the modern experience.
Lent was originally commissioned in 1983 for performance at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Though it was never produced there, it instead premiered in London’s Hammersmith Lyric Studio in the same year. The play was subsequently reproduced for television and radio, and has continued to be staged in a number of amateur performances.