A play of soaring highs and devastating lows, at times uplifting or darkly comic, the EUTC’s production of Education, Education, Education is nothing short of an A* (pardon the pun). A talented cast, clever set design, and an infectiously catchy soundtrack, all work to create this triumph of a performance.
Lights go up on a classroom set furnished with two whiteboards. Enter Tobias (Max Prentice), German exchange teacher, who immediately wins over the audience by singing the praises of British culture (particularly his rendition of ‘Take Zat’). The awkwardly enthusiastic teacher, he leads us through his flashbacks of his first day at Wordsworth Comprehensive. Through him, we meet the other teachers at the school, and the army of students they attempt to instruct.
What initially comes across as a day-in-the-life montage of late 90s Britain becomes an inquisitive critique of the education system. Through the foul-tempered Louise (Kelechi Hafstad), we see a once idealistic teacher turned sour by the lack of government resources. The talented but ‘delinquent’ Lauren (Lauren Robinson) shows the failings of a system that cannot accommodate the specific needs of individuals. Lewis Forman as Paul is the bullying teacher we love to hate; Fergus Head’s Hugh is the quintessential head teacher whose optimism cannot paper over the cracks in the concrete.
The cast are both teachers and students, deftly building the world of the school. At times they’re dancers, receptionists, or the Knights of the Round Table, yet giving each role depth and individuality. Referring to other students with the names of members of the EUTC and the Bedlam Theatre was a nice touch for those of us already acquainted with the company.
The set design was excellent. Posters made with that corrugated construction paper we all know and love, primary colours, and tall metal lockers, all contribute to that vein of nostalgia that the play taps into so well. The use of whiteboards as DIY signposts in the whistle-stop tour of the school was also clever. Even when the cast couldn’t keep up with the pace of the dialogue, the resulting scrawl of ‘cheᵐᶦˢᵗtᵣᵧ’ only made it funnier.
The script remains exceptional. Running gags such as the Tamagotchi (RIP) and the bouncy castle keep the audience invested in side-characters. We root for the students as well as for the teachers; especially the kind-hearted Sue (Becca Chadder). Hers and Tobias’ revelations about the education system create a developed analysis of the ‘right’ way to run a school.
Indeed, this is the true power of the play. We are introduced to a mishmash of people who are doing their best with what they are given, and finding that this isn’t enough. The task of educating children is one of the most important duties of a nation, yet routinely finds itself severely underfunded and undervalued. Tobias tells us that Lauren succeeds, but only in spite of the school, which itself will eventually close down despite its promise. These glimpses into the future are a sombre reminder of governmental priorities. Yet there is hope still: we are reminded, Tamagotchi-style, that we can always ‘hit the reset button and start again’. All is not yet lost.
This production of Education, Education, Education takes the Spice Girls and school uniforms to create a hilarious exposition of the state of teaching in Britain. Well-developed and well-performed, it wholly deserved the standing ovation that it received.
PHOTOS: Andrew Perry
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