Touring – reviewed at Shoreditch Town Hall, London
Guest reviewer: Rosalind Freeborn
Education, Education, Education wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, winning awards and pleasing the critics, with good reason. The show is in the middle of a tour of the UK. I saw the production when it paused for a five-day stint at Shoreditch Town Hall but it’s on the road until mid-June.
What riotous fun this show is. Conceived and performed by Wardrobe Ensemble, the small band of players conjures the crazed world of an inner-city comprehensive full of bewildered and exhausted teachers and energetic and challenging children.
It’s the morning after the night before – 2 May 1997 – and Tony Blair has just won the General Election. Hopes are running high, ‘Cool Britannia’ feels like a reality, creative life is booming – hell, even the economy is picking up.
We remember our formative years so vividly and school was such an important element for all of us. The jokes and references in the show certainly hit a nerve with the (mostly) young audience, many of whom would have been at school 20 years ago. There are some great one-liners. For example, the deadpan German teaching assistant who is the show’s narrator muses on the significance of lyrics suggesting that Socrates would have approved the Spice Girls’ song ‘Who do you think you are?’
There’s a lot of music in this show which makes one nostalgic for the upbeat, cheery and creative soundtrack to those early years of the Labour government. The story of this school’s challenges is nicely illustrated by frequent blasts of songs combined with clever use of the beguilingly simple set. All we have are two classroom doors which scoot about the stage, a scattering of tables and chairs and much bursting into rooms and slamming on exit.
The story is slight but nicely drawn. Frustrated and tired teachers want the best for their children but feel drained by the students’ relentless energy and questions. Wayward children – in particular Emily, the disobedient student, are regarded as people to be squashed and chastised rather than nurtured and encouraged. Nervy teacher Sue, who does her best to bring drama and creativity to her classes, has a near death experience and makes us all gasp at the prospect of a tumble from the school roof – onto a bouncy castle.
Don’t expect serious analysis of the education system from this play, though there is a strong sense that school days are very formative and you can’t help missing them a bit. Simply dust off your imagined school uniform, fire up your Tamogotchi, get ready to tap your feet to the stonkingly good tunes from that time and enjoy the ride. If there is a message, it’s a good one, that the disruptors are the ones who actually question the system, make changes and move things on; the good students are the ones who sit tight, accept the status quo and never make any ripples in life. Wardrobe Ensemble have certainly made ripples, in a good way, with this show. Catch it if you can.