Creators: The Wardrobe Ensemble
Directors: Jesse Jones and Helen Middleton
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Before Afghanistan, Iraq, the banking crisis, austerity and Brexit, there existed hope for a brighter new Millennium for our country. Wardrobe Ensemble’s raucous show is set in a comprehensive school in May 1997, when the Spice Girls, Take That and Oasis filled the airwaves, the United Kingdom won the Eurovision Song Contest and a new Government was elected, led by a politician who had earlier proclaimed: “ask me my three main priorities for Government, and I will tell you: education, education and education”.
Tobias (a beautifully deadpan performance by James Newton) is German, a newly-arrived assistant teacher. His observations as an outsider provide a thread to link the narrative and he comments on the initial euphoria of a school itching to get a bite of the £3 billion promised for education and on a country that is revelling in the limelight of Cool Britannia and still besotted by its beautiful princess. How quickly things were to change.
Directors Jesse Jones and Helen Middleton create pandemonium on stage, which is a fair reflection of this school, which has a crumbling building and textbooks that are 15 years old. It is located in some place in England which, oddly, seems to have missed out on ethnic diversity. Authoritarian Head of Discipline, Miss Turner (Hanora Kamen) shows little self-discipline in her extra-curricular liaison with fellow teacher Mr McIntyre (Tom Brennan); rookie teacher, Miss Belltop-Doyle (Jesse Meadows) exerts no discipline at all in her classes, which is little wonder when she chooses to address pupils in a Ginger Spice costume.
Mr Pashley (Ben Vardy) puts the life of a confiscated Tamagotchi in peril, while Mr Mills (Tom England) slips into his alter ego of King Arthur and fights on behalf of a pupil in a situation where mild rebellion could turn into social alienation. The rebellious pupil, Emily Greenslade is played as a high-spirited loner by Emily Greenslade. Art imitating life perhaps. There are serious issues here and there, but, mostly, they are carried along on waves of physical energy and good humour,
When Tobias contrasts the optimism for the school in 1997 with how events actually unfolded over the ensuing 20 years, he teaches us that the woes of our education system cannot be resolved solely by injections of cash nor by Government interference. At 75 minutes, this production is shorter than the average double History lesson, but it is almost certainly a whole lot sharper and more fun.
Runs until 29 June 2019 | Image: James Bullimore