Reviewed – 9th May 2019
“an evocative commentary on ever present class divides”
School can conjure up some of our best and worst memories from our lives. A microcosmic little bubble that can be supportive and caring yet also brutally totalitarian. In Iseult Golden and David Horan’s jointly written and directed award winning play, Class, they thoughtfully question how much the education system has truly changed and whether school can ever erase social divides.
Brian (Stephen Jones) and his estranged wife Donna (Sarah Morris) are back in their old school to meet with their nine-year old son’s teacher, Mr Ray McCafferty (Will O’Connell). With tension already high between the recently separated couple, when Mr McCafferty drops the bombshell that their son Jayden is struggling with the schoolwork and suggests an educational psychologist to determine any issues, the shock and fear riles up into heated discussion. Particularly as Brian and Donna have never liked school, and have never trusted men in suits who use long words instead of getting straight to the point. As the parent-teacher meeting soon crumbles, we cut to Homework Club where Jayden and classmate Kaylie (also played by Jones and Morris) are gradually improving their reading and writing, whilst innocently revealing snapshots of their home life.
Set in the classroom, with traditional wooden chairs and wall-wrapping chalk boards, the building is haunted with memories from the austere, ‘olden days’. This clashes with Mr McCafferty’s more progressive standards of teaching. The enclosed nature of the classroom, jumps from being the secure haven of Homework Club, where the pupils voice their doubts and fears, to a highly claustrophobic and tense environment between volatile parent and condescending teacher. Set designer Maree Kearns makes sure the space can enable this flip flop from the two which is an engaging, and excitable gear change to the story narrative.
Jones and Morris effortlessly shapeshift between playing parent and child that precisely demonstrates how adults and kids see the world differently. You easily forget it’s the same pair of actors. Hardly ever leaving the stage, their metamorphosis happens before the audience’s eyes but this is never jolting nor detracts from the believability. Jones and Morris’ accurate depiction of the funny things kids say and do are spot on, particularly Morris as the dance obsessed Kaylie.
Will O’Connell’s teacher Ray McCafferty is frustratingly caught between eagerly wanting to help his students and what, in this day and age, is deemed as a step too far. O’Connell skilfully navigates his characters ambiguous nature clearly filled with many complexities and hurt. All performances from this three-person cast are impeccable, generously playing off of one another.
Golden and Horan have created an evocative commentary on ever present class divides, and the stigma around learning difficulties, or ‘differences’ as Mr McCafferty would correct me to say. Written with a well-observed eye, and with perceptive performances given, Class is a concise exploration, that never tries to educate you on the issues acknowledged .
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Helen Murray
Bush Theatre until 1st June
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer: