The TheatreguideLondon Review
Waters' new drama is an intelligent and engrossing problem play, a look
at a serious contemporary issue in specific human terms that keep it
always immediate and real.
He doesn't reach
any conclusions or offer any solutions, but by reminding us that the
story is a lot more complicated than we might like to believe, he
leaves us unable to return comfortably to any preconceptions or
prejudices we came in with.
In a decaying part
of London - the Bush's own neighbourhood, actually - a group of parents
concerned about the state of the local school set out to establish
their own Free School (an alternative available under recent
legislation, most often used to create religious schools).
As the project
progresses and they have to define what they're doing, for government
approval and for their own organisation, things they'd rather not face
have to be faced.
The kinds of small
compromises of their vision that have to be made to get approval and
funding are bothersome but fairly easily skirted. The fact that their
unspoken but blatantly obvious real agenda is to get their own kids out
of the state school does have eventually to be said out loud,
especially when they realise they'll have to fudge their proposed
admission standards to do it, so the implicit racism or at least
class-ism of these (of course) mainly white, educated, middle-class
figures is exposed.
And the realisation
that any funding they get and any superior or motivated students they
cherry pick will just worsen things in the local school does call the
purity of their vision into question.
But it is not
Waters' purpose to satirise or attack these people as phoney liberals
or hypocrites. They are facing a real problem - the local school is a
horror - and it is admirable of them to want to do something about it.
But Waters makes us
- and some of them - see that their solution is not an easy answer and
perhaps there are none. The play doesn't reject the Free School project
because it is imperfect and impure; it just makes us recognise that it
is imperfect and impure, as might be any alternative solution.
Waters isn't a
defeatist, but he is a realist, and his play wants to block both blind
faith in some easy answer and the cynical response that just because
there is no perfect answer we should stop trying.
Waters and his
director Nathan Curry keep all this socio-political theorising grounded
in reality by peopling the play with recognisable and sympathetic
characters, sincere but flawed.
Two couples are
fleshed out by being given relationship problems only tangentially
related to the school project, and the one non-white member of the
group gradually lets his feelings of being an outsider show. A handful
of kids from the state school are introduced to remind us that they are
all individuals and can't be pigeonholed by any simple or manipulated
Claire Price provides a strong centre to the play as a teacher and parent whose idealism and commitment are repeatedly put to the test, with strong performances by Andrew Woodall, Susannah Harker and Christopher Simpson as the rest of the group, Richard Henders as a naysayer and Joanne Froggatt as a canny government bureaucrat.
Little Platoons is being performed in repertory with John Donnelly's The Knowledge, another play about the school system.
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Review - Little Platoons - Bush 2011