EUTC

Education, Education, Education

 

14/11/18

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

This quirky little play, originally devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble, is the perfect vehicle for the EUTC, offering a real opportunity for these talented students to show their acting chops.

It’s 1997, and it’s Tobias (Max Prentice)’s first day at Wordsworth Comprehensive, where he’ll be working as a German language assistant. But this is no normal day: Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister last night, and there’s a strange emotion pervading the staffroom. Could it be… hope? Might the ‘education, education, education’ mantra that’s propelled Blair to the top job actually translate into something real, like new textbooks, or permanent classrooms, or reduced class sizes?

Whatever. It’s still a school day. The bell still rings; there are still lunch duties and lesson covers – and the small matter of ‘muck-up day,’ as the Year 11s seize their opportunity to cause consequence-free chaos: they’re leaving this afternoon. And, amidst all this, there’s Lauren: troubled, angry, vulnerable Lauren (Lauren Robinson), who wants to go on a history trip to York, but who’s been told her past behaviour precludes her from such treats.

This is a lively, energetic production, with all actors (except Prentice) dual-rolling as staff members and pupils. Tobias’s outsider’s eye exposes the vagaries of our education system; he’s a positive, engaging character, a Brit-o-phile, more gently observant than sharply critical. The performances are all strong, but standouts include Fergus Head as ineffective head teacher, Hugh Mills, and Lauren Robinson as the self-destructive teen mentioned above. Robinson in particular excels at portraying a heartbreaking mix of fragility and bravado, the all-too-recognisable frustration of those who have too little autonomy.

The Brit-pop music provides a dynamic aural backdrop, and the high-octane dance moves and scene transitions all help this small cast to convince us we’re in a busy, bustling school. There are some sombre moments: Tobias’s flash-forward narrative reminds us that, although Blair did indeed inject a lot of much-needed money into the system, and things did improve considerably, this too has now passed: schools are academised and closing, begging parents for provisions, dropping ‘frivolous’ subjects from their timetables.

Don’t get me started. This one’s personal for me. I was a teacher for twenty-two years; I left because of what the job became. I’ve been a foreign language teaching assistant too (in Germany), so this play really speaks to me.

But even if your own experiences are vastly different from these, this is a piece well worth seeing. What happens in education affects us all.

And this is fun. So, you know – win, win.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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Tom at the Farm

07/01/18

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

File this one under ‘suffering for your art.’ We’re at Edinburgh’s Bedlam Theatre on what must be one of the coldest nights of the year and, up on stage, young actor Yann Davies, who plays the eponymous Tom in Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, is stripped down to his underwear and gamely trying to convince us that he’s in a nice warm bedroom. It’s testament to his acting skills that he pretty much succeeds, even though we’re feeling distinctly nippy in heavy coats and woolly hats.

In this tightly-scripted four-hander, advertising executive Tom drives out to a remote farm somewhere in the backwoods of Canada to visit the family of his recently dead lover, Paul. When he arrives, he’s dismayed to find that Paul’s grieving mother, Agatha (Tilly Botsford), has no knowledge of Tom – indeed, she is under the impression that Paul was dating a French girl called Natalie. Tom also discovers that Paul has a brother, the glowering and rather intimidating Francis (Peter Morrison), who quickly impresses on Tom the necessity to maintain the deception and to tell Agatha exactly what she needs to hear. Tom soon finds himself being absorbed into the day-to-day running of the farm and it begins to look as though he might never return to his old life in the city…

EUTC’s production powers assuredly along, anchored by fine performances from the cast (particularly from Davies, who manages to convey so much through his expressions and gestures). There’s a slightly unconvincing strand towards the final third, with the arrival of Sara (Kathryn Salmond, last seen rocking an inspired Fagin opposite Davies in EUSOG’s Oliver!), who has been hired by Tom to impersonate Paul’s fictional French girlfriend, Natalie. To be fair, Salmond plays it really well, but the raucous humour seems somehow out of place in what has, up to this point, been a pretty tense and straight-faced tale. However, ┬áthe story soon recovers and heads towards a convincing climax. This is a student production, but everything here is done with great assurance – the set design, the lighting and the sound are all nicely handled and Joe Christie’s direction coaxes the best out of a talented young cast.

Go and see this while you still can – but, if the cold snap continues, take my advice and make sure you wrap up warm.

4 stars

Philip Caveney