by John Donnelly.
Bush Theatre Shepherds Bush Green 8QD In rep to 19 February 2011.
7.30pm 31 Jan, 1, 5, 7-9, 14, 15, 19 Feb 7.30pm
Mat 2.30pm 3, 10, 12 Feb.
all performances above sold out except 3 Feb 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8743 5050.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 January.
Gripping lesson in the difference between what you’re taught and what you learn.
This term’s Bush timetable mixes Steve Waters’ Little Platoons, about setting-up a ‘free school’, with John Donnelly’s The Knowledge. Donnelly’s title acquires several implications along the way as the play moves beyond an opening in yet another Grange Hill-is-nothing class-from-hell.
Newly Qualified Teacher Zoe is truly out of her comfort zone with this group, kept small with good reason. Donnelly expertly picks-out the relationships between the quartet of non-scholars, from aggressively defiant Mickey to bullied and besotted Daniel, with Karris and Sal joining-in or mediating between – girls with their own values but little by way of attention-span.
Poetry-writing Zoe teaches English, but not to this group. Citizenship is the subject here; the sort of thing proclaimed vital then added last on junior teachers’ timetables. Mickey and pals know this and easily manoeuvre their way round, undermining Zoe’s attempts to draw their comments back towards the lesson.
Only determination keeps her going. And a fairly remarkable headteacher. True, Harry ignores procedures as keenly as Mickey does work, and is a practised fixer; Donnelly gives him an acid wit rather than the more likely faded idealism or near-retirement weariness. Andrew Woodall shows the politician in the educator, swerving physically and vocally round terminological traps as he steers situations his way.
Harry pursues the wrong means to a fairly satisfactory end. Less sympathetic is Zoe’s immediate boss Maz, self-interested and leaky-mouthed. Christopher Simpson gives him a look of blank arrogance, sign of an ego no-one’ll shift.
On Zoe’s other side Joe Cole’s Mickey is short-fused, his loud-mouthed rapid responses indicating the hurt fuelling his sexually reductive, self-protective nastiness, while Kerron Darby’s Daniel brings hurt from the opposite end; a bullied sensitivity that feels rejected by teacher as well as peers. Holli Dempsey and Mandeep Dhillon show different forms of the poor students who’re good kids at heart and shrewd enough of mind.
Between them, in Charlotte Gwimmer’s alert, detailed production, Joanne Froggatt, whose Zoe makes her own misjudgements, catches perfectly the stressed expression, plus nervous voice and posture of her put-upon character, while finding the determination to – in Samuel Beckett’s term – “fail better”.
Mickey: Joe Cole.
Daniel: Kerron Darby.
Karris: Holli Dempsey.
Sal: Mandeep Dhillon.
Zoe: Joanne Froggatt.
Maz: Christopher Simpson.
Harry: Andrew Woodall.
Director: Charlotte Gwinner.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Mark Doubleday.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Alice Lacey.
Assistant designer: Thomasin Marshall.