TO SIR, WITH LOVE: Original Novel ER Braithwaite, Adapted Ayub Khan-Din
Birmingham Rep: The House. To 06 May
Runs 2h 25m, one interval, to 6 May
BO: 0121 236 4455
Review: Rod Dungate 29 04 17
A bold chance, well executed, and still much to say
Many of us know TO SIR, WITH LOVE from the 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier. The film was based on a 1959 autobiographical novel be ER Braithwaite. Ayb Kjan-Din has gone back to the novel for this theatre adaptation, and the main character is now named Braithwaite. The play is set just post WWII in Birmingham. Many theatres have youth theatres attached; the Rep’s decision to stage this play is a brilliant stroke, since it gives many of the Young Rep’s actors opportunities to play the key roles of the senior pupils.
Other than that is the play worth seeing; a resounding ‘yes’ to that. The main character, Braithwaite, is a black electronics engineer, just out of the US air force; he can’t find work and ends up in an inner city Birmingham school and is put in charge of a tough bunch of young people in their final year.
The play has two strong themes running through it – racism and how to teach tough young people. The racism presented in the story is deeply shocking (gasps at time from the audience.) In an age we like to believe is more enlightened (though not perfect) it is important that we are reminded how things were. This is powerful; but the real surprise is how relevant the education debates still are. This school’s Headteacher encourages Braithwaite to throw away old-style books on teaching in favour of ideas of respect, relevance and giving the yung people a voice in their education.
Khan-Din’s adaptation does not always translate the book to the stage easily (school lessions appear to be about 4 minutes long for instance.) However, he does present the debates well and enables us to become engaged in the story and empathise with the characters.
Philip Morris is excellent as Braithwaite. He has a lovely natural presence; he creates a strong bond with us which makes the ending very moving.
The production is greatly helped with Michael Holt’s clever multi-purpose set. Gwenda Hughes and Tom Saunders co-direct; they keep the action running smoothly and ensure both debate and emotions grab our attention and hold it firmly.
Lucy Clacher: Nora
Caleb Clarke: Archie
Matt Crosby: Humphrey Weston
Holly John: Esther Joseph
Ellie Johnson: Jane Purcell
Daniel Kenton: Fernman
Quennie Alexa Lim: Rose
Polly Liste: Vivien Clintridge
Elijah McDowell: Seales
Alice McGowan: Pamela Dare
Charlie Mills: Denam
Philip Morris: Riardo Braithwaite
Andrew Pollard: Leo Florian
Oliver Rayner-Pierce: Edward Edwards
Jessica Watts: Gillian Blanchard
Co-directors Gwenda Hughes & Tom Saunders
Designer Michael Holt
AV and Projection Designer Louis Price
Movement Director Beverley Edmunds
Fight Director Alison De Burgh
Voice Coach Simon Ratcliffe