DramaReviewSouth West

Education Education Education – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Writer: Created and devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble

Directors: Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

Set the day after Tony Blair’s New Labour landslide victory in May 1997, Education Education Education takes a very funny, but hard, look at life inside a typical UK secondary school 20 years ago.

German language assistant Tobias, is excited to be working in the UK just as the era of Cool Britannia seems to be taking off. The Spice Girls, Take That and The Prodigy have taken world music by storm and the YBA (Young British Artists) art movement is causing ripples around the globe. Blair’s party conference speech the year before the election outlined his three main priorities for government, ‘… education, education, education’. The previous night the newly elected prime minister confirmed his victory while D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better played in the background. For the young Tobias, walking into the staff room, arriving for his first day at work, the atmosphere should have been electric. 

Inside the staff room, we get a glimpse every imaginable caricature of school life. Disciplinarian Louise Turner (played by Kerry Lovell) might just as well have come to school with a machine gun as she could a mug of tea. The softly, softly approach of the headmaster Hugh Mills (Tom England) avoids pointing the finger of blame at anyone but consequently fails to stop incidents developing into crises. Bully Paul McIntyre (Tom Brennan) looks to swift, simple solutions to assert authority, while push-over Sue Belltop-Doyle (Jesse Meadows) allows chaos and extreme behaviour to rule. Add to this mix, the dim, but friendly, sports teacher, Timothy Pashley (Ben Vardy), newly arrived Tobias (James Newton), and knocking on the door of the staff room is the angry pupil, Emily Greenslade (played by Emily Greenslade).

It is the last day at school before the GCSE students go home for study leave. The parents and governors are due soon and Ms Belltop-Doyle is rehearsing a version of King Arthur’s legend with the unruly older children. Just as the legend of Camelot begins to unravel in the school play, we see the ephemeral nature of political promises and the myth of Cool Britannia start to unwind at the school. Perhaps you need to be a foreigner, like Tobias, to see it.

Despite the political undertones, this is a very funny, well-crafted and energetic short play devised and performed by Bristol-based theatre company The Wardrobe Ensemble. Interspersed with music from the era throughout, this is a delight for anyone of a certain age ie if you can remember The Verve or the movie Titanic the first time around this is for you. This hugely likeable and physical group put in some first-class highly choreographed performances.

Sadly it does descend to shouting a little too much and there is some drift in the first half. Additionally, it isn’t always clear if this is intended to be making political points about missed opportunities or if indeed, for the most part, this is simply what happens in schools: lots of different people, with contrasting backgrounds and ages, all having to find a way to pull together in bringing along the next generation with all the complexities that entails. You might wonder what the point is, but it is great fun nevertheless.

Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: Graeme Braidwood

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