by Steve Waters.
Bush Theatre Shepherds Bush Green W112 8QD In rep to 19 February 2011.
7.30pm 27-29 Jan, 2-4, 5, 10-12, 16-19 Feb.
Mat 2.30pm 5, 17, 19 Feb.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8743 5050.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 January.
Lesson on educational organisation is well-taught.
Up-to-the-minute and bang-on-the-nail, Steve Waters’ new play looks at an attempt to establish a parent-organised ‘free school’ in west London. Whether they think it’s wonderful in Wandsworth or find it appealing in Ealing (both areas of London currently developing a ‘free school’) will depend on individual views.
Yet Waters respects both sides of the argument, while exposing difficulties along the way. If your new school is oversubscribed how do you select who’s in, who’s out? Do it on who lives nearest and you risk replicating the existing horror-comp; in this case Mandela High, formerly Clement Attlee School – names recording the evaporation of earlier aspirations. But search-out other criteria for admission and you risk keeping out the very children your school’s supposed to be giving a new life-chance.
Such bare thematic bones are covered in the flesh of human relationships – ex-husband and wife, pupils and former-teacher. It gives characters more substance but clouds the wider issues, as personal agendas fuel arguments and provoke revelations. And sleight-of-hand doesn’t quite cover the unlikelihood that a teacher with Rachel’s views would join in the project, while the new school promoter’s sudden decision to appoint her headteacher seems an improbably fiction.
Signe Beckmann’s in-the-round design is functionally furnished but wrap-around unhelpful. Chalked formulae on blackboard-walls are out of touch with today’s smart-board classrooms, and there’s little visually to suggest the new school’s being built in an unused shop-unit (perfectly possible under the legislation).
Still, Claire Price and Christopher Simpson bring the contrasting intensities of people with passionate convictions to Rachel and free-schooler Parvez, his engined by her forgetting she’d taught him at Mandela, she having the last word on him as an aspirant musician with no ear for music. And that implies a broader question – whether a younger Parvez would gain a place at the music-focused ‘free school’ the adult is determined to found.
Then, back from the big round-table discussion where commercial interests are introduced there’s a comic contrast between Joanne Froggatt’s polite, procedure-bound civil servant (one suspects a private education lurking) and the final reality-check brought in with a group of Mandela students.
Brandon: Joe Cole.
Marcus: Kerron Darby.
Sadie: Holli Dempsey.
Amitha: Mandeep Dhillon.
Sam: Otto Farrant.
Polly: Joanne Froggatt.
Lara: Susannah Harker.
Martin: Richard Henders.
Rachel: Claire Price.
Parvez: Christopher Simpson.
Nick: Andrew Woodall.
Director: Nathan Curry.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Mark Doubleday.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Assistant director: Chanya Button.
Assistant designer: Thomasin Marshall.