How does a play not only get away with schoolboy level humour but make it work? Setting Remedial Remedies in a secondary school may not be essential, but it certainly helps. It didn’t take long for Bruce (Joseph Cox), one of four students sitting additional revision classes for a GCSE English re-sit examination, to express his discomfort at even being in the classroom. His wanting to get out sooner rather than later, however, never becomes a metaphor for the audience wanting to get out of the theatre – the show is compelling to the end.
The scene changes are satisfyingly slick, though perhaps this is helped by a set movement incorporated within the action fairly late on. Given the age profile of the characters – even their teacher, Mr Winterdon (Miles Parker) has no hesitation in stating he is ‘too young’ for a headteacher role – it is a surprise there isn’t a mobile phone in sight, particularly when Ben (Joshua Akehurst) comes close to emptying his bag, leaving the other students wondering ‘how much stuff’ he brings to a mere revision class.
Completing the quartet of students is Jack (Arian Nik), very much a sidekick to the (usually) gregarious Bruce, and Kevin (Samuel Ranger), whose conscientiousness is so admirable it was mystifying to me that he failed first time around. My hunch, for what it is worth, is that Kevin’s subpar performance in that exam is related to personal circumstances not spoken about in the play. Therein, come to think of it, lies the beauty of the play, revealing only what is necessary to advance the narrative, and not getting bogged down in the minutiae of the students.
Where it does delve into almost excruciating detail is in both Winterdon’s admonitions to analyse the literature the students are to be examined on, and in the students’ responses, which range from one-word summaries (think Fiddler on the Roof and its opening number, ‘Tradition’, the title of which pretty much sums up that show in one word) to being elaborately subversive. Dramaturgically, it is paradoxically both terrible and sublime, the former because the story meanders too much, the latter because the meandering is used to great effect to advance the plot, introduce more layers to it, and demonstrate substantial character development.
I did feel for the students, sat there, dissecting and scrutinising a work of literature that is supposed to be enjoyed for the literary beauty that it is, and found their relative inability to concentrate on the task at hand at once both understandable and entertaining. In the final scene the dialogue takes on a poetic rhythm, which some may find artificial after well over an hour of highly naturalistic script, but in its defence, it wraps things up succinctly. The play’s ending, though, is somewhat ambiguous, and raises more questions than it answers – do they go on to pass the exam? Do they stay in touch? What becomes of them?
There is an almost ridiculous number of themes covered in this one-act production, and I very much appreciated some not-so-subtle sideswipes at the politically correct brigade. At times the dialogue between teacher and students becomes almost like an episode of Just A Minute, and for all the warnings about colourful language from Winterdon (a metaphor, in my book, for theatre more generally: what is it with theatre and swearing?) they eventually catch him out when he says something technically inappropriate.
Though some of the later plot outcomes are predictable, there is much depth, even in some seemingly rudimentary conclusions about the text they are trying to study, some motion pictures, and their future prospects in general. Remedial Remedies is a triumph. This is possibly the most compelling schoolboy coming of age play to hit the London stage since Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Remedial Remedies looks at how the youth of today are pressured, how the stress of exams and succeeding can affect their overall performance and social life. We follow the story of Bruce, Jack, Kevin and Ben, four students who have failed their English GCSE. It’s the run up to the resit of the exam and they have been placed into a special revision session with a support teacher Mr Winterdon. Each boy deals with the week differently, we see the effects of ADHD and discover more about their relationship with Winterdon, each other and their school, seeing how each boy has a different outlook on the exams and their future life. As the pressure starts to pile on we watch as the cracks begin to appear and see a hopeless Mr Winterdon trying to pave the way to greatness…
After a fantastic reception at our first On The Night we are very proud to now be producing Remedial Remedies as a full production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in July!
Kevin- Samuel Ranger
Bruce- Joseph Cox
Jack- Arian Nik
Ben- Joshua Akehurst
Mr Winterdon- Miles Parker