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Review of Jam at Finborough Theatre

Harry Melling & Jasmine Hyde in Jam
Harry Melling & Jasmine Hyde in Jam – Photo credit- MATHEW FOSTER

I wonder whether Bella Soroush (Jasmine Hyde) should have toughened up a little. Did nobody tell her when she was doing teacher training that there were going to be pupils like Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling)? Kane, some years later, confesses to being a “twat” – I say ‘some’ years later: the maths, ironically for a play in an educational setting, doesn’t entirely add up when it comes to how old each character is. It’s hardly the salient point here, in a play that’s not for the faint-hearted. Let’s just say there are relatively few people in Britain today who possess a baseball bat purely, if at all, for the purposes of recreational sport.

I don’t know why Jam is called Jam, and that’s having seen Jam. There’s no jam in the show, and as far as I can recall, the word ‘jam’ isn’t in the dialogue. Anyway, the pre-show stage atmosphere attempts to be eerie with voices echoing in the background. It isn’t possible to decipher who is saying what, but it gave a strong impression this was representative of voices from the past returning to haunt one or both characters. The set itself could have been a visual portrayal of almost any workplace, and it was the distant sound of a school bell that brought back unpleasant memories of my own school days.

The script develops both characters well. Neither is wholly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, so what initially was a question about whether it is ever right for a teacher to strike a pupil – self-defence being the mitigating circumstance here – becomes a fascinating and somewhat complex examination (pardon the pun) about lying and the reasons why people lie. Sometimes, as with Kane, it isn’t always possible to pinpoint why there was lying going on, but here, rather like an alcoholic admitting their situation, acknowledging the fault is a major breakthrough.

It’s not an entirely watertight script, and it’s not an entirely watertight production. Some of the pauses, particularly early on, are a tad too long, and I failed to understand, for instance, what right Bella had to rummage through Kane’s personal belongings, or why Kane tacitly agreed to her doing so by not raising an objection. More widely, however, it’s Kane’s differing moods that made a slightly dull first half more tolerable. The play does, to be fair, find its stride eventually and settles into a decent pace. It veered too close to melodrama on occasion for my liking, and in the dying moments of the play, the background sound effects began to irritate.

Perhaps it was deliberately meant to add to the level of discomfort the last few minutes gives the audience. I stifled a yawn at some point in the first half-hour; in the last half-hour of this ninety-minute show, I was gripped as the story built to a crescendo. Some excellent use is made of the available stage space. On one level, however, the play doesn’t tell its audiences anything new. It’s the sort of message one would expect from a feel-good musical. Go out there, do your thing, live for the moment, throw caution to the wind and seize the day. On a deeper level, this is one of those shows that raises far more questions than it even attempts to answer. It’s a provocative and forthright play. And that’s the truth.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“They said I was violent. You’re the ‘victim’ – what do you think?”
Ten years ago, Bella Soroush’s life was ruined by one of her pupils – Kane McCarthy. She has gradually rebuilt things – new school, new town, new friends – and finally feels at home in the depths of the countryside. Now Kane is back in her classroom, armed with relics of the past and claiming to want forgiveness. As the truths they’ve clung to begin to collapse, teacher and pupil are forced to confront their prejudices and the shared history that has bound them together.

 

Harry Melling (King Lear, Old Vic, Hand to God, Vaudeville, The Angry Brigade, Bush Theatre, is Kane. Jasmine Hyde (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe, Somniloquy and Why Can’t We Live Together?, Theatre503) is Bella.

Jam is Matt Parvin’s debut full-length play. It is directed by Tommo Fowler, who returns to the Finborough Theatre following his acclaimed productions of Obama-ology and I Wish To Die Singing.

Jam is produced by W14 Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

Harry Melling & Jasmine Hyde
star in Jam
at Finborough Theatre
Tuesday, 23 May – Saturday, 17 June 2017
http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

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