There’s an urgency and intensity to Marika Mckennell’s E8, but there’s a clumsiness and a clunkiness, too. Developed by Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre and directed by the theatre’s co-director Ria Parry, it’s snapshot of life in an east London pupil referral unit, where two tired teachers struggle to contain two troubled teenagers.
The title refers to the London postcode in which it is set – central Hackney, east of the Kingsland Road – and it has the undeniable ring of truth to it. Mckennell, who draws on her experience of working in a PRU, captures both the issues and the accents in her writing.
But authenticity doesn’t always equate to quality, and the play is also extremely awkward. It’s an hour-long scene, and the entrances and exits are clearly contrived. It’s obvious Mckennell knows what she’s talking about, but it’s also obvious that this play has been plotted out like a planner.
Alice Vilanculo supplies another eye-catching performance as Bailey, a girl whose anxiety manifests itself as anger. She’s abrupt and aggressive, but allows her insecurity to slip out between the cracks as well. Elsewhere, though, the cast is patchy. Tina Chiang and Parys Jordon can’t quite find the right world-weary rhythm, and it’s evident that Harry McMullen grew up a million miles from east London.