DramaFeaturedNorth East & Yorkshire

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Newcastle Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Winifred Wynn

Writer: Onjali Q. Raúf

Adapter: Nick Ahad

Director: Monique Touko

This week the Theatre Royal Newcastle opened its doors to The Boy at the Back of the Class. This play is based on an award winning novel by Onjali Q. Raúf and adapted cleverly for the stage by Nick Ahad.

The story is told of a young Syrian refuge Ahmet, played by Farshid Rokey. The boy’s language is Kurdish thus making communication with his peers difficult. He sadly sits alone at the back of the class.

We are led through the first act by Ahmet’s classmate Alexa, played by Sasha Desouza-Willock who befriends Ahmet. We discover Ahmet has fled war torn Syria and crossed from France to the UK on a boat leaving his parents behind. Tonight we see the plight of one small refuge brought to life. This is a story we are seeing most days in the news media so highly relatable to the audience.

The story unfolds through the second act with the friendship group, led by Alexa, setting themselves the task of finding Ahmed’s parents. This mission takes them to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for help (the play was written pre-King Charles III).

This play is aimed at children but this reviewer feels it can be enjoyed by all ages. There is a mixture of humour amongst the serious messages. There is a clever juxtaposition of the school bully, bigoted parents and an ignorant older teacher alongside the welcoming children. The kindly, innocence of the children is clearly shown as they tell the story.

The play raises lots of issues such as the loss of a parent, war and prejudices. The set design by Lily Arnold is simple thus enabling swift changes by the cast to help move the story along. The director Monique Touko ensures a fast, energetic pace throughout. Touko’s clever breaking of the fourth wall creates empathy and the plight of the refugees are clearly shown as people like us with families that love them.

The creative team need a special mention especially the Composer and Sound Designer Giles Thomas, the Movement Director Kloe Dean and the Fight Director Maisie Carter. The upbeat, funky music sprinkled throughout the play engage a youthful audience. The small skirmishes and football game are extremely well choreographed.

The director notes in the programme “May this play push for further action of kindness, promote equality and depict a world where people are seen as people”. Well, you can be assured that it certainly went a long way to promoting these values at the Theatre Royal tonight. This is a story that needs to be told. It closed to an appreciative audience and some your reviewer noted with a tear in their eye. So make a note that you may need tissues for this one.

Runs until 4th May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Compassionate, Energetic, Funny

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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