The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Winter 2018-2019
Ravenhill does not think well of British schools.
past they were brutal places, in the present they are failing the
students, and in the future – judging from the currently fashionable model
of privately-run academies – they will be dehumanising robot-creating
people involved in teaching and administration were, are and will be
fighting their own personal psychological and moral demons, so that the
children in their care were, are and will be the victims, collateral
damage in their private wars.
no solutions, nor is he obliged to. But his presentation is a little too
one-sided and riddled with holes to be as convincing or despair-inducing
as he would wish.
veteran teacher is retiring after forty-five years in the same school.
Back when corporal punishment was allowed, it was he who had the task of
striking offending boys on the hand with a cane. Today's students have
somehow discovered that, and demonstrations of their outrage are turning
toward mob violence.
school itself has gone downhill and is in imminent danger of being taken
over by the education authorities, and probably handed over to a firm that
his wife supports him as she always has, the couple's grown daughter sides
with the academies and even the mob. But her position is made suspect by a
lifetime of antagonism toward her father – as a child she attacked him
with an axe, for reasons never fully explained, and she betrays an
unmistakable satisfaction and even glee in his downfall now.
how the personal and political/pedagogic stories are inseparable and how
they contaminate each other, and he is strikingly even-handed in the way
that no one comes out of his presentation looking good.
secondary theme emerges from the play and Vicky Featherstone's direction,
one that (possibly deliberately) muddies the seeming clarity of his
the real-world cases of historic sexual abuse that no doubt partly
generated this play, there can be no question whatever that the crimes of
the past were crimes. But the play allows or even invites you to find
something troubling about judging the past by modern standards of right
practice of hitting students decades ago was unquestionably wrong, but it
was the accepted and legal practice, and it is never suggested that this
particular teacher was any worse or more sadistic than his counterparts in
every other school in the land.
even-handed as the play tries to be, the father played with quiet
sincerity by Alun Armstrong becomes far more sympathetic than the daughter
to whom Nicola Walker skilfully gives an increasingly evident private
agenda that undercuts her moral authority.
Steed as the wife and mother bravely lets her character sink into
insignificance as what seemed like admirable loyalty to her husband begins
to look more like cowardly avoidance of any judgments or decisions.
The Cane is a passionate play and a thought-provoking one. But after evidently setting out to damn everyone, it seems to stumble its way into taking sides.
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