I have a renowned, large gob. Sometimes words escape my mouth before the brain processes a thought – and my thoughts are processed aloud. In the past, that has got me into deep, deep trouble – fallouts with teachers, peers and other important people who really have your best interests at heart, although you may not realise that at the time (and that is the long-winded way of saying my mum). However, on this occasion I think it actually worked in my favour – for once. Sat on the tube ready to depart Elephant and Castle, we’ve just seen a very good production at the Southwark playhouse – School Play, by Alex Mackeith, offering a gritty and realistic commentary on the modern day primary education system, and I’m trying to figure out where I recognise one of the actors from. Apparently the answer to that was sat in the seat directly opposite me. Who’d have thought.
School Play, Alex Mackeith
Tickets; £16 each, Southwark Playhouse full-time student scheme.
The modern primary school to some is a place nothing short of hell. What’s more delightful at 8:30AM than 200 screaming 4-11 year olds. Kids these days are somewhat of an enigma – most have smartphones and a higher score on snapchat than myself and Kim put together, yet when faced with Ye Olde Paperback novel act as if an alien has fallen from the sky and began dancing a jig. To some, I’m sure this would be the preferable option. I believe this to be mostly due to the vigorous and cut throat assessment system present – paper means tests, tests mean stress, stress means shouting teachers, shouting teachers means misery all round.
Examining this in an hour and a half on stage requires a depth and broadness of understanding of what it is to be a teacher – or any member of staff – in this environment. Mackeiths way of showing this was through fairly simple, stereotypical characters. The ever caring head trying to save the school, the wannabe teacher stuck in a receptionists chair, the arrogant and deluded Oxbridge graduate who swans in once a week to tutor, and the stressed, good-for-nothing father. All these characters served a purpose, true, even if the context in which they did so was slightly crass.
What I can’t fault though, is the actors dedication and understanding of the roles. Working with a class of year 4’s every Tuesday I understand the art of ‘the stare’ and the necessity of ‘the voice’ to a child that needs slightly more than a gentle hint to shut gob and sit down. The play covered the basics of school life; financial pressures and government schemes that simply don’t work and the numerical targets out there to get any sort of access to them. Anyone who knows education today knows this, and I’ll give it to the show, it highlighted them but to explore them in full your gonna need a longer play, more points of view and more focus. It would have been nice to explore the pupil premium scheme more, because I know there’s so much more to it than this play managed to show. The characters all served as resonant metaphors for what their issues are in ‘real life’- a basic us vs them approach – teachers vs authorities, rich vs poor all blatantly obvious. It makes me wonder what a full time teacher would make of it – what they would make of this condensed version of their everyday. What a very applied theatre question.
So, we’re back on the tube – chatting like the northerners we are to the nothing-less-than lovely Oliver Dench, who was surprisingly receptive to the concept of Applied Theatre (surprising in the sense we didn’t have to spend 15 minutes explaining that yes, in fact theatre is more than just tap dancing). He had to be congratulated on his painfully petty performance – showing me everything I didn’t want to be in my placement today. Perhaps I should thank him for the reminder. All in all, our chit chat was rather pleasant, and it was really lovely to get to know him aside from his character, who just really got on my tits. So there it is, my slightly cynical and cost-effective review of School Play. I’d say I got my money’s worth out of if.