BWW Review: EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION, Trafalgar Studios
Set in both a temporal and comic sense between Grange Hill and The Inbetweeners, Education, Education, Education takes us to a comprehensive school on that bright morning after the night before - the night that Michael Portillo lost, that Tony Blair won and when what we wanted, what we really, really wanted, was to believe that things could only get better.
For a long time, they did - and the play more than nods to the magic money tree that dispensed funds to Blunkett's bricks and mortar and not Boris's Brexit and more talk. It's The Wardrobe Ensemble's thing - using a moment in the past to shine a light on the issues of today.
And that political spine works well in the play, but the comedy too often falls flat - at times wild (it is Muck-up Day), but not quite as madcap as the antics of Will, Simon, Neil and Jay. The realism is also there, but it's just not as edgy as Phil Redmond's children's TV game changer or (especially) Barrie Keeffe's Gotcha (with which it shares many narrative motifs).
It's all a little annoying, because there's the kernel of an interesting story between two misfits, James Newton's Werner Herzog-lite narrator, German teaching assistant Tobias, and the razor sharp, but frustrated and angry Year 10 Emily (Emily Greenslade). That storyline bubbles away, but never really gets established in what is a crowded 70 minutes. We get sidetracked too often into staffroom stereotypes and endless thin laughs at the expense of naff 90s references and cheesy / nostalgic music.
Comprehensive schools are full of pupils like Emily, waiting for the right teacher to come along and find the combination that turns the lock (Emily did find him or her at another school and went on to York University - again we're told this in an almost throwaway aside). How did that happen?
We get the message that teachers need resources and morale to be fostered not crushed by league tables and outcomes, and that they need time to communicate not yet more bureaucracy. But we don't see the wondrous alchemy that connects the kid to the teacher and animates the learning that takes place in the space so created.
Maybe this review is doing what a review ought not to do - asking for a play that was not presented - but the ambition is there in The Wardrobe Ensemble's work. It's just not realised as well as it might be in its execution.
Photo James Bullimore