Writer: Marika Mckennell
Director: Ria Parry
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Set in a Pupil Referral Unit, where children who slide through the cracks in mainstream education find themselves, E8 provides a snapshot of the lives of two young people and their teachers.
Underfunded and with a reputation for violence, PRUs have become synonymous with “difficult” and excluded children. The reality is that students in these units have multiple challenges in their lives, and this can often be their last chance at education. Bailey (Alice Vilanculo) is one such troubled teenager. Bullied at school and neglected at home, she rails against the staff at the PRU, but it is clearly one place where she feels safe. As her Head Teacher, Polly (Tina Chiang), packs up following her last day, she represents one more adult who is leaving Bailey behind.
Where E8 is at its most successful, it is opening the audience’s eyes to the challenges facing young people like Bailey and Ryan. With family members in prison or dead, endless exposure to drugs and violence, and zero self-esteem due to neglect, it is hard to see how these young people can overcome their start in life.
The adult characters are less well rounded, however, and their scenes often feel like an exercise in exposition rather than driving the plot. Mo (Parys Jordon) has grown up like the kids, so relates to them in a different way from Polly. This is interesting, but under-developed, with a scene about his conduct seeming to stop in the middle. There are also some issues around boundaries depicted – a physical assault that is then let go. This could be intentional, but if so is not clearly explored, giving some mixed messages.
E8 is an important piece, shining a light on stories that are less often heard. It would benefit from some development, and perhaps a stronger narrative arc, but the young characters it portrays are beautifully drawn. Vilanculo is truly outstanding as Bailey, allowing the audience to see her vulnerability shining through her tough exterior. Whether it is cussing, rapping or climbing the set, Vilanculo is 100% authentic, elevating the play to another level with her committed performance.
Runs until 25 August 2019 | Image: Contributed