A right gobby shite – School Play at the Southwark Playhouse

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.

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How to do Fish and Chips

First, while on your travels in Holland taste battered fish and deep fried chips and declare it’s genius. Export to Britain.

Secondly dispute where it originated in England. Decide it was a Jewish man named Joseph Malin around 1860 in East London over John Lees in 1863, because what good comes from Lancashire?*

Thirdly, let Italian migrants spread the idea through England, Scotland and Wales.

Fourthly, claim it as a national dish. Do not let it be rationed during periods of war.

Whilst doing all this be aware of the controversy and and secretive nature of batter recipes.

Now you must choose your favourite fish and chip shop. As a general rule if you can see the sea you’re in a good place as it almost guarantees fresh fish.

Never settle for soggy batter.

Decide quantities of salt and vinegar, and whether you allow them time to soak.

Do not eat at any shop that charges you for scraps- you are being mugged off.

Next, decide where to eat them; on a train, on a park looking over town, up on the cliff and count the waves that roll towards you and feel the wind whip your hair and pull tears from your eyes

Finally be wary of time- eating straight away may burn your mouth. Letting them get cold is reason.

Enjoy

*See War of the Roses for background

-Kim

Something I don’t want to admit to, but kinda have to

No, I’m not developing a southern accent (thank the world), but I wrote 2, Kim wrote 2, now it’s my turn again. Hi! 
I made 2 promises before we had our little break, and that was to review panto and Complicite’s “the pacifists guide to the war on cancer”, and having not seen any theatre since returning to London (shocking, I know), this plan would make perfect sense. But panto season is well and truly over, and to revisit it almost half way through February seems just a bit too drab for my liking. Having said this, I still feel I can have my say on A Pacifists Guide.

Tickets; £5 – many thanks to National Theatres Entry Pass.

So, what stuck in my mind about this show so much that I still feel compelled to blog about it almost 3 months after it finished its run? 

Well, it’s a verbatim, musical-theatre satire about Cancer. There was glittered, singing cancer cells, tap dancing pregnant ladies and real life characters, performing real life stories. Intense? Aye, just a tad. I think the question gracing everyone’s lips is “ETHICS? How?!” – and I wont be shy of admitting that’s exactly what I thought too. Everything it branded itself as, even the programme, sold in a medical folder, was controversial, resulting in many heated debates over why on earth anyone would want to see it. But when you come to think of it, no one should really want to see it – they should need to. I’m a firm believer that music and musical theatre is a seriously effective way to convey all kinds of information – from the in depth debate ‘The Adams Administration’ (Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton) to the fact that “a cancer cell is an ordinary cell…” (Kimmings, B, 2015) – and as the fact that I quoted both of these without making contact with a book or google search of any kind (I know, clever lass) suggests, my thesis stands as right. I’m about to return to the pacifists script though, to make reference to its skill and content in an academic essay interrogating what is truth and what is real – deep, I know. 

Deep is certainly a word to describe lots of the theatre we see nowadays. It feels like years we grabbed a glass of house white and a dinner consisting of the cheapest pasta dish on the menu before trogging down to Shaftesbury avenue to see a west end hit – and come out feeling so uplifted that we stopped by sainsburys on our way home to grab a bottle of wine to continue the party, often till we fall asleep. So why have we changed our tune so much? When was the last time we went to the theatre, that wasn’t the national preceded by sharing sweet potato fries by the river?

Well, I think I know the answer. I hate to say it, but I think the time has come. Almost a year and a half into my London drama school experience, I’m ready to admit it. Take a deep breath, sit tight and admit it – I’m a theatre snob. 

I’m a theatre snob.

I said it again. Sing it out – I’m living a privilege; my access to the arts is at an all time high. Thank you student tickets! Thank you people I know who can sneak me into rehearsed readings on the hush hush! Be thankful that I’m still in work so I can enjoy these privileges when they come around, that’s a fuck ton more than many people can have. Because I’m seeing so much, being involved in so much cutting edge theatre and performance, learning and challenging old and emerging theories and techniques of script writing, I’ve turned hyper critical. Of everything. From the commitment and the appearance of the actors to the way the show has been directed – all of it is vulnerable to my critique. When you go to a west end show you expect perfection, nothing less. And if there is even a slight flaw in the production, the sponsors pull out, production lose all their money and the show is off. So long, farewell, Auf Weidershen, goodbye. In short, if I’m going to see it, I know it’s going to be good. So where’s the excitement in that? I’m at a stage where I want to see the hits before they’re hits. I want to see the next People, Places and Things before its out the Dorfman. That’s why I’m continually drawn to the “small” shows. They plays about temporary accommodation at Christmas, the immersive production of Trainspotting in the back of a pub, the musicals about cancer.

So, will I keep seeing this avant-garde, risqué, challenging type of theatre? Obviously. But will I make the time to save up a bit and go and see something shiny next to Leicester Square? Well, maybe you could say I already have done. I am the proud owner of 2 tickets to see the London transfer of Hamilton, and I’ll tell you what – this girl can’t bloody wait.