Franzmann's play, here in a production transferring from Manchester's
Royal Exchange, is a powerful presentation of every schoolteacher's
horror, a student lie that can destroy careers and even lives.
beyond that is
another, more universal nightmare, of setting events in motion that go
beyond anyone's ability to stop, so that villain and victim are both
caught up in its relentless progress.
teacher breaks up
a schoolyard fight and is knocked down by one of the boys. To save
himself from exclusion, he claims that she hit him first, impulsively
adding the lie that she made a racist insult in the process.
Head, although convinced the boy is lying, is forced by local politics
to begin a mandated process that leads inexorably to police involvement
and Child Protection Services investigating the safety of the teacher's
Meanwhile the boy has to cajole and bully friends into supporting his story, get his father involved, and generally commit himself further and further to a position that he knows in his gut he won't be able to sustain.
moral of the
specific story is that systems that have justly been put in place to
protect vulnerable children are open to abuse, and that any system that
is too rigorously codified is probably not equipped to handle the
complexities and shades of grey of individual cases.
larger story is
one of fate and of the inability to control or even understand our own
lives, and there are other examples in Franzmann's play of characters
trying and failing to make sense out of their experiences.
you are a
teacher, it is that deeper existential vision that is likely to affect
you more, in part as well because the surface story, however well told
here, has been told before. (John Donnelly's The Knowledge, seen at the
Bush last month, offered a variant on the theme - there the teacher was
guilty and the school rallied around her - and there are echoes of
David Mamet's Oleanna, not to mention several TV soaps.)
production is polished and powerful, with strong central performances
by Julia Ford and Malachi Kirby, and solid support by Shannon Tarbet,
Fraser James and the whole cast.
evocative set design by Tom Scutt sets the action within the fences of
a schoolyard, which gradually take on the feeling of a cage in which
everyone - boy, teacher and bystanders - is trapped.
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- Mogadishu - Lyric Hammersmith 2011