BWW Review: EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION, Royal and Derngate
Twenty years after New Labour's election landslide, Wardrobe Ensemble's Education, Education, Education offers a snapshot of a failing school, the day after Tony Blair's win.
Our guide is Tobias, the new teaching assistant from Germany. He finds a staffroom filled with optimism, but with chaos lurking beneath the surface. Year 11 are on the rampage on their last day before exam leave, and despite the happiness about the election result there's division among the teachers. The ambitious disciplinarian clashes with both the idealistic head and the dreamy (slightly drippy) English teacher, who can't control her classes.
The seven-strong ensemble works like a well-oiled machine as they dash around the stage pushing chairs, slamming doors and switching between roles as adults and students at breakneck speed. I could have watched James Newton's Tobias all day as he makes completely deadpan observations about the differences between Wordsworth Comp and Germany, while Jesse Meadows as Susan Belltop-Doyle manages to evoke sympathy as well as exasperation in a role that could easily have become really grating.
Wardrobe Ensemble interviewed teachers from this era while devising the show, and as someone who was at secondary school in 1997, a lot of Education, Education, Education rang true to me and chimed with my own experiences. I had a PE teacher who dressed exactly like Ben Vardy's amiable but dim version, who is clearly at the bottom of staffroom hierarchy, and Emily Greenslade as Emily-the-problem-student reminded me of a whole gang of girls I knew at school - all rolled-up skirts, messy ponytails, black trainers and rebellion.
The set, designed by Lucy Sierra, is minimal but clever, and the attention to detail is impeccable - from the posters on the wall that look like they've come from a photocopier that's about to run out of toner, to the chewing gum and rude graffiti on the undersides of the tables. And it all comes accompanied by a soundtrack of iconic Nineties songs.
Looking back at the wave of optimism that Cool Britannia brought is a bittersweet treat. For all the jokes about Tamagotchis and shag bracelets, the teachers are looking forward to a better-funded future, where education is the priority. Twenty years on, we know how it has all turned out and it lends a poignant edge to everything, even as you're laughing.
Education, Education, Education is at The Point in Eastleigh on Wednesday 18 October and Bristol Old Vic 1-4 October