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Review of School Play at Southwark Playhouse

School Play at Southwark PlayhouseThese SATs papers have been around for so long I knew exactly what they were as soon as they were mentioned in School Play – I sat (ahem) them myself, though my results were more important to other students (the ‘What did you get?’ brigade) and to the school than they were to me. In those days students were graded by ‘level’, and it was, in all seriousness, as though people with a higher ‘level’ were somehow ‘better’ than those on a lower one. The term used to stand for ‘Standard Attainment Tests’, and as I understand it, they are now just a colloquialism for what are National Curriculum Assessments. What I wasn’t aware of was what the implications are for a state school these days merely because an externally set arbitrary target isn’t reached.

The headteacher’s office is, to quote Hamilton: An American Musical, ‘the room where it happens’. Taking place over the course of an entire school day (caretaker Tony (Kevin Howarth) is on hand to speed the wall clock up – the show is not, mercifully, in real time), it is SATs results day. I do wish more detail had been given of the process by which pupils receive their results: I had to read up on it afterwards in order to get my head around why the pupils were more interested in a pending trip to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington than whether they were deemed to be ‘Working at the Expected Standard’.

It seems I’m not the only stickler for detail. Tom Rawlence (a suitably boyish Oliver Dench, great-nephew of Dame Judi), a private tutor (yes, in a state school: there are reasons for him being there, which are explained in the narrative), dispenses a glorious discourse of the grammatical structure in Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2’. Elsewhere, he dispenses teaching advice, musing that it’s “crucial that everyone can see what you’re doing”, a note that certain productions (no names) could do with remembering. Here, I hasten to add, the blocking and movement are excellent.

Most of the rest of the show’s humour didn’t appeal to me. It even seemed largely superfluous once the play stopped meandering through and around the personal lives of headteacher Jo Fell (Ann Ogbomo) and her administrator Lara Hudson (Fola Evans-Akingbola), and started dealing with the consequences of a critical incident on the aforementioned school trip and what lies ahead for a school under pressure from the local authority and Ofsted, the schools inspectorate. The inclusion of domestic details does to be fair, allow for some character development, but that could have just as well have been accomplished without them.

The set depicts a modern facility, far from the crumbling buildings I recall from my own primary school experience. The play does, at least, allow some insight into a side of school life that most people, particularly those who do not work in the education sector, are rarely if ever exposed to. Tom, enthusiastic and likeable, comes across as a metaphor for Jo’s school, eager but inadequately resourced. The show it offers no feasible solutions, other than ‘keep calm and carry on’, that might be helpful in helping overworked and underpaid teachers trying to stay afloat. I found the whole thing quite an exhausting experience, and I longed, as I did so many years ago, for the final school bell of the day to ring so I could make my escape. An interesting but rather over-ambitious production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The headteacher’s office of a south London primary school is always busy. But today is results day and the phone won’t stop ringing. Jo, the headteacher of St. Barnabas, knows that the arrival of the school’s SATs results puts her job on the line. With the future of the school and its pupils at stake, Jo struggles to maintain order as her staff and superiors demand answers. Can she protect her students and herself?

antic | face is proud to present this sharp, wry and timely drama. Set against the backdrop of an education system in turmoil, Alex MacKeith’s debut play asks what it means to be a primary school teacher in contemporary Britain.

Read our exclusive interview with Oliver Dench

Creative Team
Director – Charlie Parham
Designer – Anna Reid
Lighting Designer – Zoe Spurr
Composer & Sound Designer – Michael England
Casting Director – Claudia Blunt
Producers – Emma Hall & Jo Nash
Co-Producer – Nik Holttum

Oliver Dench
Fola Evans-Akingbola
Gemma Fray
Kevin Howarth
Vida King
Ann Ogbomo

School Play
by Alex MacKeith
1 – 25 FEBRUARY 2017
Start Time 8pm
Matinee Starts 3.30pm
Running Time 90 mins approx


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