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School Play review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘sharp, moving, timely’

Ann Ogbomo and Fola Evans-Akingbola in School Play. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Good Will Hunting. Dead Poets Society. The History Boys. Dramas about teaching tend to follow a pattern (and tend to star Robin Williams). Alex Mackeith’s School Play does neither. What starts as a light, PG-rated, farce about a hectic school day grows into a brilliantly funny, fiercely political, and deeply moving examination of our education system, academies, tutoring agencies, warts and all.

Jo (Ann Ogbomo) is the conscientious headmistress of a struggling state primary. Lara (Fola Evans-Akingbola), her earnest secretary, spends any spare time she scrounges revising for her own PGCE. Tom (Oliver Dench) is a feckless, privately educated, Oxbridge graduate-turned-tutor, helicoptered by a concerned board of governors. Everything’s happening at once: SATs results, a Year Six trip to the Natural History Museum, a visit from the council, an irate father of a diabetic child. Just another day on the front line.

Like James Graham, Mackeith seems able to combine a sharp, satirical humour with a compelling clarity of dialectic. Amid the clutter of registers, reports and permission slips, familiar debates on catchment areas and curriculum content are elegantly escalated into fundamental questions of societal inequality. And on Anna Reid’s detailed set, director Charlie Parham has burnished this incisive material into a breathless 90 minutes of quickfire conversations. Ogbomo, Evans-Akingbola and Dench are all superb.

School Play is a real gem. Just when Theresa May has raised the spectre of selective education, Mackeith powerfully suggests that it’s time we all went back to school.

 

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Verdict
A sharp, snappy and timely examination of our flawed education system 
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