TO SIR, WITH LOVE
by E R Braithwaite adapted by Ayub Khan-Din.
Royal & Derngate with The Touring Consortium Tour to 30 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 September at Royal & Derngate (Royal auditorium) Northampton.
Love and understanding in a period piece.
In the late 1940s Guyanan-born Edward Braithwaite, a Black wartime spitfire pilot frustrated in attempts to find an engineering job in postwar Britain, turned to teaching in a tough London school.
He faces, in Ayub Khan-Din’s new stage adaptation of Braithwaite’s book recounting a year at the school, racism – though less than might be expected (this was early in the days when British consciousness of ‘immigration’ turned from European refugees to people from the Caribbean).
Even more he faces pupil hostility, the youngsters’ expression of frustration at feeling already rejected by society. The last teacher’s just fled the class, and it’s an uphill struggle.
The play only outlines how Ricky (from Braithwaite’s middle name Ricardo) overcomes this hostility; a lot of thought and effort remain unseen. He insists on order but treats the class with respect, to the initial astonishment and eventual submission of the staffroom bigot, and earning the pupil’s love and respect after gaining that of most colleagues and his boss, based on progressive headteacher Alex Bloom.
And bloom is what these young Eastenders do, to their own shock and the resistance of the truculent Denham (a detailed portrait of resentment unable to come to terms with itself from Mykola Allen). How much they have, and want, to give when they know it will be received and valued, shows in the performances of Mark Babych’s cast (the pupils are disgracefully not identified individually in the programme – something counter to everything the play is saying).
The adults are competently acted, though their roles are often secondary. Playing headteacher Florian (at most performances on the tour) Matthew Kelly shows him as an encouraging observer, trusting his new recruit to find his own solutions. Peta Cornish makes the well-bred, loving Gillian a gentle yet active presence.
If there’s a quaintness now to the class conflicts of then (no drugs, knives or video nasties fuelling the aggro), Babych catches the period feel of late-forties urban films in a lively style, while Mike Britton’s set suggests both post-war rubble and the bombsite that was these children’s destiny till ‘Sir’ turned up with love.
Denham: Mykola Allen.
Monica: Harriet Ballard.
Gillian: Peta Cornish.
Seales: Kerron Darby.
Ricky: Ansu Kabia.
Florian: Matthew Kelly.
Weston: Paul Kemp.
Pamela: Heather Nicol.
Clinty: Nicola Reynolds.
Ensemble: Ben Ayers, Alana Castle, Sasha Farmer, George Attwell Gerhards, Christian Needle, Cameron Percival, Poppy Roberts, Isobel Scanlon.
Director: Mark Babych.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Ivan Stott.
Choreographer/Movement: Nick Winston.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.
Associate director: Neale Birch.
6-28 Sept Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mar Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described 25 Sept; 26 Sept 2.30pm BSL Signed 26 Sept 2.30pm Captioned 24 Sept Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Northampton 01604 624811 www.royalandderngate.co.uk
1-5 Oct 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed New Theatre Cardiff 029 2087 8889 www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk
8-12 Oct 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Everyman Theatre Cheltenham 01242 572573 www.everymantheatre.org.uk
15-19 Oct 7.30pm Mat Wed, Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed 7.30pm Theatre Royal Nottingham 0115 989 5555 www.trch.co.uk
22-26 Oct 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed 7.30pm Grand Theatre Wolverhampton 01902 429212 www.grandtheatre.info
29 Oct-2 Nov 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described/BSL Signed Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm) Captioned Wed 7.30pm King’s Theatre Edinburgh 0131 529 6000 www.edtheatres.com
5-9 Nov 7.30pm Mat Wed 2pm; Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed 7.30pm Alhambra Theatre Bradford 01274 432000 www.bradford-theatres.co.uk
12-16 Nov 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Fri (+ Touch Tour 6.15pm), Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed Civic Theatre Darlington 01325 486555 www.darlington.gov.uk
19-23 Nov Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
26-30 Nov Rue; Thu-Sat 7.30pm Wed 7pm Mat Wed 1.30pm Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Wed 7pm Orchard Theatre Dartford 01322 220000 www.orchardtheatre.co.uk