Bush Theatre January-February 2011
new drama is an intelligent and engrossing problem play, a look at a
serious contemporary issue in specific human terms that keep it always
immediate and real. He doesn't reach any conclusions or offer any
solutions, but by reminding us that the story is a lot more complicated
than we might like to believe, he leaves us unable to return comfortably
to any preconceptions or prejudices we came in with.
a decaying part of London - the Bush's own neighbourhood, actually - a
group of parents concerned about the state of the local school set out
to establish their own Free School (an alternative available under
recent legislation, most often used to create religious schools).
the project progresses and they have to define what they're doing, for
government approval and for their own organisation, things they'd rather
not face have to be faced.
of small compromises of their vision that have to be made to get
approval and funding are bothersome but fairly easily skirted.
fact that their unspoken but blatantly obvious real agenda is to get
their own kids out of the state school does have eventually to be said
out loud, especially when they realise they'll have to fudge their
proposed admission standards to do it, so the implicit racism or at
least class-ism of these (of course) mainly white, educated,
middle-class figures is exposed.
the realisation that any funding they get and any superior or motivated
students they cherry pick will just worsen things in the local school
does call the purity of their vision into question.
it is not Waters' purpose to satirise or attack these people as phoney
liberals or hypocrites. They are facing a real problem - the local
school is a horror - and it is admirable of them to want to do something
about it. But Waters makes us - and some of them - see that their
solution is not an easy answer and perhaps there are none.
play doesn't reject the Free School project because it is imperfect and
impure; it just makes us recognise that it is imperfect and impure, as
might be any alternative solution. Waters isn't a defeatist, but he is a
realist, and his play wants to block both blind faith in some easy
answer and the cynical response that just because there is no perfect
answer we should stop trying.
and his director Nathan Curry keep all this socio-political theorising
grounded in reality by peopling the play with recognisable and
sympathetic characters, sincere but flawed.
couples are fleshed out by being given relationship problems only
tangentially related to the school project, and the one non-white member
of the group gradually lets his feelings of being an outsider show. A
handful of kids from the state school are introduced to remind us that
they are all individuals and can't be pigeonholed by any simple or
Claire Price provides a strong centre to the play as a teacher and parent whose idealism and commitment are repeatedly put to the test, with strong performances by Andrew Woodall, Susannah Harker and Christopher Simpson as the rest of the group, Richard Henders as a naysayer and Joanne Froggatt as a canny government bureaucrat.
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Review - Little Platoons - Bush Theatre 2011