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The Theatreguide.London Review

Class
Bush Theatre  Spring 2019

The title of this play by co-authors and co-directors Iseult Golden and David Horan is a pun, as the play shows how a child's school problems expose social gaps and tensions between his working class parents and middle class teacher.

A young male teacher invites a boy's parents to a conference. The boy has reading problems and the teacher suggests having him tested for dyslexia or other issues, in order to find the best way of helping him.

Throughout the play it is absolutely and unwaveringly clear that all three adults want what's best for the boy. But their own issues keep getting in the way of their unity in helping him.

The parents are separated, and every attempt to form a united front gets lost in their power struggles and mutual blaming. The teacher is unsure of himself, repeatedly misspeaking, hiding behind jargon or otherwise putting his foot in his mouth in ways that just make things worse.

(Alternating scenes of the teacher tutoring the boy and a girl student – played by the same actors who play the parents – show him to be well-meaning but not really very good at his job.)

But larger and more obstructive than the personal issues is the class gap. Lifetimes of being made to feel inferior make the parents finely attuned to anything that suggests a class insult, from the teacher's educated vocabulary to what they see as patronisation in his attempts to be clear. And, already having troubles with other students and their parents, the teacher is unconsciously slipping into a resentment of those who don't share his values.

The play is a painfully convincing catalogue of ways one character or another can say things in exactly the way another will take as an insult, and attempts to find common ground will only drive them apart.

Given roles that could easily have become shallow stereotypes, Stephen Jones and Sarah Morris effectively individualise and flesh out the parents, he as a man of short fuse struggling admirably to change himself and save his marriage, she as a woman first tasting independence and freedom from the pressures of trying to keep the peace with him.

And both show how painful it is for them that their own problems interfere with their absolute love for their son.

Their second roles as the young children amount to little more than gimmick casting, never convincing us as children or offering much to the play.

Will O'Connell introduces the teacher as a simple professional and slowly and subtly lets the man crumble, as we see his confidence fade and come to understand he has little to be confident about – the main function of the scenes with the children is to show, with more kindness and regret than criticism, his limitations as a teacher.

There are no villains here, just three imperfect people whose combined inadequacies can do little to help the child.

Class doesn't have a great deal that's new to tell, or much that you haven't probably seen on one TV soap or another. But it tells its story well, convinces you of its truth and holds your interest and sympathy through its uninterrupted 95 minutes.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Class - Bush Theatre 2019