GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES LURKS HAPPILY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASSROOM
There is nothing funnier in the world than kids swearing. This play gets us as close to that as possible without without social services getting involved.
Class 4N are a trial class. They are the fortunate guinea pigs being tested with a new
child-led style of teaching. At the head of the classroom sits Badger Be Good whose bland morality tales will guide the children painlessly into compliant adulthood. “It shouldn’t even have any capitals” remarks one of the children. The walk into the theatre is one of the first thrills. You arrive at a devastatingly realistic looking primary school classroom. The detail is outstanding. Chloe Lamford’s nudges gasps from all who enter and mutters of “shit, look!” from one patron to another.
The play, like setting, is uncanny. The story is disjointed and sinister – a form of something we think we know. Children sing, plot and tell spooky tales of what happened to the kid who ate too many super-green smoothies. Middle class parents of the world look away now. Amanda Abbington is the prim powerhouse Sali Rayner. She is the creator of this scheme and the kind of ball-clenchingly terrifying person who is both an educator and a star of ITV1. Think Mary Portas but with ‘thinking stools’ and felt tips. She is fierce and delightfully patronising to the children but they bite backfz. “She is called Sali which is a normal name but she puts an ‘i’ at the end to make her interesting”.
However the Guardianista wares she’s come to peddle are not welcomed by the kids. The kids say they are ‘stressed’ and the headteacher talks of ‘phases’ and ‘logs’. It stinks of an educationalist with a plan. The kids start by playing along, but eventually rise up. Their teacher Ms.Newsom (nicely frantic by Ony Uhiara) breaks down and leaves. The quasi-corporate headteacher (snappily played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) desperately tries to keep the school afloat whilst the pleasingly no-nonsense northern Mrs Bradley (charmingly brought by Corrie’s Julie Hesmondhalgh) gives the children brief freedom.
The real joy here is how horrible the child Louis can be. Or “King Louis” as he manipulates his classmates into calling him. Brilliantly played the night I went by Bobby Smalldrige (a new acting dynasty name if I ever heard one), he is calmly and terrifyingly in charge. He cuts through a terrific amount of bullshit and looks barely 6.
But although Molly Davies’ play is politically fierce, sassily spoken and expertly staged by Vicki Featherstone, it suffers from a lumpy structure. It runs for 1 hour with an extra 45 minutes weighing it down. There are far too many scenes which cloud the gems and its neat politics get lost in setup and explanation. Faulty but joyously original. Educational policy made punchy drama – no easy feat!
Box Office: 020 7565 5000 to 20 Dec
Supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation