The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall (Grand Theatre), Edinburgh
In its opening stretches, The Ofsted Massacre feels horribly familiar, taking me back to my old job in secondary education. Head teacher Ros (Florence Chevallier) calls an emergency staff meeting, and tries to sound upbeat as she delivers the dread news to the staff of her FE college: “We’ve had The Call.” Anyone who’s worked in a school knows exactly what that means. An Ofsted inspection: a high-stakes obstacle course on an un-level playing field. The dice have been cast in advance, and the bouquets and brickbats are already inscribed – but still you have to drive yourselves onwards, just to survive. Phil Porter’s script feels like it’s been torn from the inside of a stressed-out teacher’s head: a revenge fantasy, born of despair.
It’s also a very funny play, drawing on Shakespeare, while lampooning staffroom stereotypes and exposing every cliché. Bullish head teacher with an inferiority complex? Tick. Ruthless business manager in a designer suit? Tick. Bumbling classics teacher, littering his speech with Latin? Tick. Ditsy RS teacher who doesn’t know what’s going on? Tick. Badger in the dining hall? Ti… wait; hang on a moment; what? They’re clever caricatures: instantly recognisable types, but imbued with enough humanity to add up to a lot more than that.
At first, the focus is on internal disputes and divisions. Business manager Liz (Lila Skeet) has a plan to game the system: send the ‘naughty’ kids on a trip with the weakest member of staff, and bring in super-teacher, Yvette (Amelie Scott), to plug the gap. Meanwhile, the janitor, Frank (Jake Francis), is dispatched to place a bug in the inspectors’ office, while nervous NQT Dylan (Lara Pilcher) is given the job of listening in…
But when lead inspector Mark (Toby Anderson) tells Ros that, despite her best efforts, failure and Special Measures loom, the staff finally unite – to form an army. And mayhem is unleashed…
This production, by Kingston Grammar School’s sixth form drama students, is a triumph. The young cast embrace their roles, eliciting gales of laughter from the audience with their well-timed punchlines and impressive slapstick. One standout moment is the revelation that drama teacher Joe (Fin James)’s relationship with his ex, Liane (Isabella Walsh-Whitfield) – now an inspector – failed because Joe just couldn’t let go of the past, couldn’t stop thinking about ‘him’, talking about ‘him’, focusing on… Michael Gove. Anouk Busset, as RS teacher Felicity, is a study in physical comedy, her heightened state of confusion a wonder to behold. Amelie Scott is also very funny indeed, her Little Miss Perfect act honed to, well, perfection.
The Grand Theatre can be an awkward space to perform in. Although it’s a big, airy room with a large stage, there are no wings, and so the backdrop is used for entrances and exits, which often looks clunky. KGS’s directors (Stu Crohill et al) show that it can be done: I think this is the first time I’ve seen a play here without being aware of this problem. Set changes and transitions are also elegant – despite the staffroom scenes requiring six large chairs – an object lesson in zero-fuss, well-orchestrated stage management (Phoebe Bowen et al). Camille Borrows and Meg Christmas deserve a shout-out for the costumes: they’re spot-on, and I’m impressed by the attention to detail as they deteriorate, along with the college’s chances of success.
There’s only one more opportunity to catch this show at this year’s Fringe. Don’t miss out – you’re in for a treat. Especially if you’ve ever dreamed of getting your own back on Ofsted…