LUNG Theatre, based at the Lowry, have previously made a powerful piece of theatre with ‘E15’ which examined the housing crisis of 2016.
This is a similarly provocative show, charting the 2014 scandal that surrounded Birmingham schools, their supposed ‘radicalisation’, and subsequent backlash from press and families.
Obviously, it’s a commendable subject to tackle. With a Conservative government still in power and pushing an increasingly right-wing agenda, it seems little has changed.
Written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead, and directed by Woodhead, it is a verbatim piece, which has been drawn from 200 hours of interviews.Weaving the political with the personal, the two main characters’ stories are brought to vivid life.
Rashid (Mustafa Chaudhry) is a well-meaning teaching assistant being forced to plead his innocence. His trial monologues bookend the production. Farah (Gurkiran Kaur) is a young schoolgirl wrestling with traditional Muslim values and trying to get good grades, while being distracted by falling for a local girl.
These stories deserve to be aired. However, they are delivered without subtlety, and there’s little development in the structure of the piece. The constant shifting of desks become a grating distraction from the script.
Keshini Misha excels in the supporting role as reactionary head teacher Elaine, but the script relies on clichéd, somewhat didactic storytelling.
Still, there are moments which feel authentic, such as the classroom struggles for oneupmanship, the pushback against Michael Gove and interminable Ofsted reports , and youthful rebellion against more old-fashioned parental values. Progress is, as ever, too slow, it seems.
Reviewed at Tron Theatre. Touring across the UK.