The Glass Will Shatter – Omnibus Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Joe Marsh

Director: Lilac Yosiphon

The much criticised Prevent Strategy comes under scrutiny in this new play written by Joe Marsh, and opening at the Omnibus in Clapham. The Prevent Strategy, initiated by the Government in 2003, seeks to stop radicalisation in Britain, and teachers are required to report any students they believe are being drawn into terrorist networks. Marsh’s play suggests that this Government policy is tied up with racism and Islamophobia.

Rebecca has just started at a new school, teaching science to teenagers and quite early on she has difficulties with Amina, who is a British-Somali. Amina is every teacher’s worst nightmare; rude, difficult and insolent, constantly disrupting the class. However, Rebecca begins to suspect that Amina is taking an unhealthy interest in what’s happening in the ‘Islamic State.’

Strangely, Marsh’s play is set in the near future when, presumably, Charles or William is King, where schools have resident armed police, and where deadly bombs detonate all over London. It’s a hastily drawn dystopia, and perhaps this distances the audience a little, and makes the play feel less urgent. The first two long – and possibly unnecessary scenes – struggle to give context to the drama we are about to see. It’s not until we flashback to the classroom that the play comes alive.

As Amina, Naima Swaleh is excellent, bringing the perfect teenage cockiness to her role. She struts and she stares, and it’s easy to see how she exasperates her teacher. Josephine Arden plays Rebecca, a teacher under the strain of holding everything together, her infantilising tone just as ridiculous as her pupil’s surly one. The classroom scenes, rapid and tense and underlined by Nicola Chang’s ominous sound design, are the best things about this show.

This could be a two-hander, but the cast is completed by Alma Eno, who plays Jamilah, the head of the Science Department. In an underwritten role Jamilah is cold, unsympathetic and, most of all, overworked. As the 80-minute play progresses, Jamilah almost disappears in the showdown between Rebecca and Amina.

And when the showdown comes, it lacks any ambivalence. This of course is deliberate but perhaps it should be up to audience to decide who is right and who is wrong. The discussion ends on the stage when it could extend to the bar or the bus-ride home. The Glass Will Shatter is an interesting play but it requires a less didactic approach.

Runs until 8 February 2020

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