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Review: Bully at The Etcetera Theatre, London

BullyIt’s not entirely convincing, at least not to me. Who gets offered a public sector job these days, on the spot, immediately after being interviewed? Anyway, long before accepting the position of Deputy Headteacher at Manor School, Jack Summers (Luke Harding) will at some point have been exposed to anti-bullying campaigns and strategies in the education sector. Why is it, then, that none of them appeared to be appropriate when he finds himself the victim of a bully even in his position of leadership? For Sam Ferguson (Nathan Hughes), there is unfinished business to be taken care of now that Jack has been brought into the school as an external appointment. It’s deeper than resentment that the Headteacher, ‘call me’ Helen (Sue Williamson) didn’t promote him internally – Sam and Jack’s history goes back decades.

I suppose it would make for an even shorter play than Bully already is had Jack come to his senses sooner rather than later. But a little like one of those tennis matches at the Wimbledon Championships when a British victory is sealed but only after a fifth set slog that leaves most fans a little drained, this is – possible spoiler alert – a journey of triumph over adversity, but some of the pain along the way could be interpreted as self-induced. Jack’s partner, Rosie (Emily Sesto), and a long-standing friend of the couple and fellow teacher, Leon (Thomas Mitchells), have known Jack long enough to deduce by his conduct that all is not tickety-boo. But Jack repels several attempts to open up and divulge what is really going on.

All this reticence is very British – the stiff upper lip is still a thing with some people. At the start of the play, Jack is brimming with educational jargon about, amongst other things, social mobility and pupils fulfilling their potential. But there seems to be little he could do about Sam, aside from finding a slightly ingenious way of exposing Sam’s campaign of physical and verbal abuse, and one wonders whether Jack would have better success at transforming the conduct of Manor School’s students, or if the odds are simply stacked too far in favour of those who just so happen to be more privileged.

As for the production, the music, piped in through the theatre’s speakers, was a tad irritating and didn’t, to be blunt, fit the narrative. The scene changes weren’t, on balance, any clunkier than they would be in any other pub theatre show, but there were a lot of them. But time and location were always clear. It almost pains me to say it, but part of me wishes Sam were a little more menacing: he bursts out laughing too often for someone who is so angry that he will stop at nothing to make Jack’s life a complete misery.

The issues raised in this production are wide-ranging and applicable to a lot of adult situations. It is easy (as I have done) to look from the outside in and express some puzzlement at the actions of both Jack and Sam. It is quite another to try to put oneself in Jack’s shoes: how would I have responded? There’s much food for thought in this intriguing play.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Jack is excited to have been offered a teaching position at the very place he went to as a child, Manor School. He is an excellent and commended Teacher who really wants to make a difference.

On his first day at Manor School, his excitement comes crashing down as his past comes back to haunt him. One of the current teachers, Sam, also used to attend Manor School.

Jack and Sam share a dark past, but they are not children anymore.

We follow Jacks story as he faces an old nemesis all over again.

Will Jack allow his tormented past to replay itself, or will he rise up in the face of a Bully?

18th- 23rd September 2018
Etcetera Theatre
www.etceteratheatre.com

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