BRIGHTEST AND BEST
by Matt Morrison.
The Half Moon 10 Half Moon Lane London SE24 9HU To 10 March 2012.
Wed–Sat 8pm Mat Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 274 2733.
Review: William Russell 22 February.
Successful picture of starting over again.
This deeply stimulating play, inspired by the real life experience of the dramatist, looks at the relationship between an untrained, idealistic teacher and his A level students at a fee-paying school for difficult children.
Rob (William Owen, holding things together with a deeply-felt performance) is a City investment analyst. After he loses his job – he appears to lack the necessary motivation demanded by his company, although it is never quite clear what went wrong – and, having enjoyed giving some motivational lectures to students in his spare time, decides he will become a teacher.
He does not tell his Steel Magnolia partner Kate (Hetty Abbott, every inch a dragon from the den), also something in the City, that he has been fired, covering up with a tale about their having babies and this being a way he can help her carry on with her career. The relationship between them, and with Dan (James Baldwin), their best friend from university, also an investment analyst, is the weakest part of the play. They really are a distinctly unendearing trio. One is not all that interested in whether appalling Dan, whose marriage is on the rocks, will get his way with Kate or not.
The other problem is that Rob, as he makes every mistake a novice teacher can make, proves to be a prat of the first order. One wants to take him aside and administer a good slapping. The three all need to grow up. Maybe investment analysts are really like that.
But the classroom scenes where Rob is confronted by his new enemies – his pupils – are brilliantly written and played. The three we meet – Greg (Jack Johns) is an insolent yob and wants to know why all the time, Jenny (Anna Tierney) is a leggy prom queen with come-hither eyes, and Raisha (Nadia Giscir) is a deeply disturbed, self-harming girl, and the only one of the three likely to succeed in passing those vital exams.
Raisha is the pupil Rob takes too much interest in, breaking down the essential barriers between teacher and pupil in his determination to do well, although why it should be so horrible for the girl to take her essay to his home rather than post it escapes me. The school wants to equip them for the world of work, while also wanting to arouse their inner talents.
It is an impossible dream given pupils who mostly don’t want to learn, but the confrontations between Rob and the trio makes thought-provoking theatre, and the case for teaching is well put by the headmaster (Malcolm McNeill). Director Natalie Ibu keeps things moving briskly and there is a really clever set by Alison McDowell which takes us from classroom to rain-swept bus stop to yuppie-pad seamlessly. It is a rewarding evening, very well acted.
Rob: William Owen.
Kate: Hetty Abbott.
Dan: James Baldwin.
Richard/David: Malcolm McNeil.
Jenny: Anna Tierney.
Greg: Jack Johns.
Raisha: Nadia Giscir.
Director: Natalie Ibu.
Designer: Alison McDowall.
Lighting: Elliott Griggs.
Sound: Helen Skiera.