If there’s a better, more pertinent, more overdue play this year than Little Platoons by Steve Waters at the Bush, then I’ll eat my fedora. (I don’t actually have a fedora, but for this bet, I’ll buy one, or at least a flat cap, and a few racing pigeons.)
It’s the second part of the Bush’s “schools season” and anatomises the urgency of education policies in the coalition government, specifically in relation to the appalling “free school” initiative approved by yes-yes-minister Michael Gove, texting buddy of Toby Young, who is setting up just such an enterprise on the Bush Theatre’s doorstep (and writing a response to this play, soon to be presented).
I can’t recall a more urgently satirical local play at this address in all the wonderful 38 years of its existence. It’s also a witty paradigm of subsidised theatre in its subject matter: a middle-class initiative born of self-interested motives using public money. Perfect.
Rachel (Claire Price) is teaching at Mandela comprehensive but moving, inexorably, to the free school sector after hubby Martin (Richard Henders) absconds with their child, Sam (Otto Farrant), to Bicester and, he thinks, white middle-class security. She’s just about worn out by her own vocation – “Does the world need any more arts graduates with humanist values?” – and is flattered by the offer of the head teacher post.
The free school project also involves a soon-disabused Asian parent (Christopher Simpson), the Toby Young-style ring-leader Nick Orme (Andrew Woodall, brilliantly punctuating his sentences with pretentious pauses), Susannah Harker as Orme’s wife, Lara, and, swallowing principles, Price’s idealistic music teacher.
As he proved in his apocalyptic, unfairly forgotten The Contingency Plan at this address in 2009, Waters is a dab hand at needling dialogue, nabbing public sector good intentions, and nailing false aspirations with the very best of them, and they include David Hare.
Nathan Curry’s production is a perfect complement to the concurrent The Knowledge, with a wonderful irruption of that play’s sulky quartet of school kids, and another delicious performance from Joanne Froggatt as a tart apparatchik with the free schools brief, and not a clue beyond her own hazy understanding of it.