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Jam review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘astonishing performances’

Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam. Photo: Mathew Foster Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam. Photo: Mathew Foster
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Succeeding in being incredibly tough to watch from a metropolitan, socially liberal perspective, Jam pits a 13-year-old white boy with ADHD from a working-class family against a half-Iranian female newly qualified history teacher.

A decade after their conflict at a rural comprehensive, Kane, now 23, appears in Bella’s new classroom, at a new school, where she’s done well for herself – having left the troublesome boy whose pranks and racially inflected taunting made her life miserable. A dogged fight to the truth of those events, Matt Parvin’s play is about how different kinds of authority, privilege, disadvantage and vulnerability intersect and shape us.

Harry Melling delivers an astonishing performance as Kane – a shuffling, easily distracted, physically intimidating young man, he is half trapped in boyhood, still calling his old teacher ‘Miss’, and playing with Pokemon cards. His shouts turn into murmurs with precision, never a thought going astray, and Jasmine Hyde’s Bella matches each moment, her performance a triumph of horrified reactions and explosive corners.

Director Tommo Fowler leads his two actors in tight circles around each other and Emma Bailey’s design makes a red climbing frame of Bella’s classroom, using the metallic ringing of the structure to complement Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s rumbling and unsettling musical compositions.

The stakes are high for both characters but the action doesn’t quite grow to match them – resolution comes too easily, leaving this reopening of old wounds feeling a touch contrived. Nevertheless, Jam leaves you turning its events over and over long after its characters seem to find equilibrium.

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Astonishing performances in a punishing schoolroom drama