The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyric Hammersmith Spring 2011
Vivienne 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.
But 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.
A 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.
Her sympathetic 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 own
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.
The 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.
The 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.
Unless 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.)
Matthew Dunster's 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.
A particularly 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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