The amount of books and musical instruments visible on stage as the audience files in for The State of Things made me think immediately of two blockbuster musicals, Matilda and School of Rock. Many of the characters in this production are engrossed in serious study at some point, as the examination period is looming. This group of Year 11 students are not, technically speaking, in a band but are all in the same music class. Still, cue angst and actor-musicianship.
Unlike School of Rock this production is not set in a public school, but in one of those new-fangled ‘academies’, or for people like me that never went to an academy school because they didn’t exist before New Labour came along, centrally funded state schools operating without the input (or, indeed, interference) of the local education authority – that is, the local council. There are pluses and minuses with regard to academy schools, which can be read at length elsewhere. As far as this production is concerned, it’s very focused: the audience sees all events purely through the perspective of the students, with parents, teachers and even friends from outside this particular class all off-stage characters.
Given this is a musical, there’s quite a long spoken word preamble before the opening number kicks in. There are enough musical numbers, in styles varying from progressive rock to emotive ballad, to place the show firmly in the ‘musical’ category, and so I resist an initial temptation to reclassify this is as a ‘play with songs’. Some of the numbers are rather catchy. And as could be reasonably expected in a show of this nature, schoolboy humour is abundant, mostly supplied by Will (James William-Pattison), who shows a degree of tactlessness but never malice.
The show brings to the attention of those not involved in the education sector a number of pertinent issues, which have knock on effects, in one way or another, on wider society. A subplot involving Ruth (Hana Stewart) and her mother, who has been certified ‘fit for work’ by the Government but for unspecified reasons cannot, is a case in point. In short, child carers often find themselves in detention for lateness and/or truancy, but their caring responsibilities are not taken into account.
Elsewhere, the awkwardness experienced by Adam (Elliot Clay) as he looks to take his friendship with Ruth beyond a classroom rapport is captured magnificently, not just by Clay but the whole company, who sing out his inner thoughts in a hilarious musical number, with encouragements to “take things slow” and “let those juices start to flow”. Then there’s Jaz (Rosa Lukacs) and Beefy (Toby Lee) indulging in kissing and canoodling at every available opportunity. All the on-stage love threatens to become the main story, rather than the fight to keep the music department open at their school, which has galvanised the classmates into working together towards a common goal.
The sound may be occasionally a tad distorted, especially when the company is in full flow, but this is a superfluous complaint given the quality of the performances. A long political speech from Will might as well have ended in a chorus of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ – the students even refer to their headmistress simply as ‘Maggie’. It all comes dangerously close to being preachy, but – impressively – pulls back from losing sense of perspective just at the right moment.
Completing the group are Sam (Peter Cerlienco), who both looks and sounds like someone in a school band better than anyone else, and Kat (Nell Hardy), a viola player with tenacity and determination. A joyous final number sends the audience out with cheerfulness, even if all the ends aren’t tied up, loosely or otherwise. The script is tasteful and imaginative, refreshingly not over-peppered with profanity. The characters may have valid concerns about the present, but with young companies like the AC Group producing the enjoyable and engaging experience that is The State of Things, the future is looking assuredly fine.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In the run up to their GCSE performance, six teenagers discover the school’s music course is being cut, and their hopes of future studies are dashed.
Set against the backdrop of austerity Britain this funny, feisty and heartbreaking new musical follows six unlikely friends as they stick two fingers up at THE STATE OF THINGS.
The AC Group return to the Jack following their award-nominated productions of Macbeth & Side By Side By Sondheim. See this brand new British musical on stage for the very first time!
THE STATE OF THINGS
book by Thomas Attwood
music & lyrics by Elliot Clay
Original story by Thomas Attwood & Elliot Clay
Thursday 7 to Saturday 23 September 2017 at 7.45pm