in a sink school in a sink town is hell.
actually be hot news to you, but John Donnelly's play delivers the
unhappy message powerfully and with enough fresh nuances to make it hit
home as dramatically as if it were a revelation.
a vision that
ranges from despairing through darkly comic to even something vaguely
resembling hope, Donnelly makes it all real and illuminates some
corners of the story we may not have been aware of before.
young teacher is
thrown in at the deep end with the total losers class in a losing
school. The kids may have no basic skills and no futures, but they are
street-sharp to the point of being feral, with even the most
nearly-human among them forced to adopt shells of vicious and obscene
wit in order to survive. They can smell fear in a teacher and hone in
with unrelenting accuracy on her weakest points.
movie the teacher would slowly win them over and the beautiful actress
would win an Oscar for seeming deep and sensitive. But Donnelly's
heroine cracks under the pressure, crosses some forbidden lines, and
has to be rescued by her not-unsympathetic Head, who does what needs to
be done, however harsh, to clean up the mess and enable the school to
that was fresh and revelatory (and totally believable) to me - the
degree of horse trading, rule bending, bullying and outright blackmail
that goes on in the staff room just to keep everything from collapsing
even the parts
of the story that are more familiar - the tiny victories and large
defeats that occur in the classroom every day, the growing awareness
that the kids are more damaged than evil but no less dangerous for
that, even the sexual tangles the teachers get into among themselves
while fully aware of how clichéd they are - become real and either sad
or comic (or both) in the sensitive hands of the playwright, director
Charlotte Gwinner and the cast.
navigates the difficult medium of playing in the round skilfully, so
that even scenes of characters sitting around a table don't leave
anyone seeing nothing but backs. More importantly, she guides her
actors to move beyond the surfaces that we might be too quick to
pigeonhole to deeper and complex characterisations.
Joanne Froggatt repeatedly surprises us by revealing new layers of
hardness or softness in her character, while Andrew Woodall gradually
lets us discover that the Head is not as burned out as he chooses to
play and Christopher Simpson makes coherent sense of a teacher who is
both a randy sexist and a dedicated professional. Joe Cole, Kerron
Darby, Holli Dempsey and Mandeep Dhillon nicely individualise the
students without romanticising them.
the best hope
that John Donnelly can offer is that the system hasn't completely
collapsed yet, The Knowledge makes that a message worth delivering in
an evening that is always engrossing and involving.
being performed in repertory with another play about the school system,
Steve Waters' Little Platoons, featuring some of the same actors.
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- The Knowledge - Bush 2011