It's a long time since the classroom drama reared it's combative head. In the 70s and 80s, pupils were seen as sympathetic rebels with a cause. Times though have changed and Richard Davidson's blackboard scruffs are hardly nascent revolutionaries. Rather, they pose the most immense philosophical question. When do you give up on people? Is there such a thing as innate badness?
Richard Davidson's Badnuff shows exactly why Soho commands the young audience loyalty it does. It's exhilarating, urgent and as disturbing as it authentically reflects aspects of our troubled society. Davidson does it, too, through a theme with which we can all relate: anger. One of the most potent things about Badnuff is Davidson's portrayal of just how close to breaking point we can all come.
Tom, head of a fictional PRU (pupil referral unit) has reason enough. He's just been turned down by Maggie, a fellow teacher he thought was in love with him and he's trying to keep the lid on kids whose behaviour would try the patience of a saint. Aggression is their stock-in-trade. Patsy is a loudmouth with a baby problem; Lanny nearly killed his teacher. And Brendan just loves winding everyone up, flashing his willy and generally causing mayhem. Add in newcomer Jay, a latter-day Goth and Maggie and you've got an explosive mixture.
Maggie - played with searing sexual allure by Teachers' Raquel Cassidy - is a quietly molten presence in this jungle. Maggie is an idealist who still harbours dreams of `saving' these lunatics (the most moving scene in the play is where she encourages the kids to write their own autobiography). When Jay happens to let on to Brendan, who fancies Maggie rotten, that Tom and Maggie are an item, all hell lets loose.
Davidson, a former teacher, mixes these elements with surprising if now and again over-schematic skill. The twists and turns of the various personalities are winningly caught with piercing, expletetive-laced accuracy that at the same time convincingly shows both the kids' violent propensities as well as their emotional damage and testing immaturity. They may be puppy-dogs but they are dangerous ones, capable of killing and lying with amoral impunity.
Jonathan Lloyd's dynamic production draws stunning performances all round, from David Harewood's vibrant Tom, father figure turned cynic, to Michael Obiora's out-of-control Lanny, Petra Letang's bolshie Patsy and Josef Altin's scrawny Brendan. Cassidy is simply superb.
- Carole Woddis