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School Play

By • West End
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Oh, that staple of the traditional school hall. No, not a gleaming bank of hi-tech slumping software, but an upright piano. Dusty and slightly off-key maybe, but quintessentially bound up in the English secondary school like sausage and chips. And it's a piano, indeed, that remains central to the proceedings in Suzy Almond's enthralling first major outing, School Play.

The second offering from Soho Theatre's Writers' Attachment Programme, this drama introduces a cast of three unknown young faces plus Tracy-Ann Oberman as the emancipated music teacher Miss Fry. The all too real bravado of freaking out supply teachers greets us early on as the three youngsters vie for control of their domain. Sex as a weapon is never far from proceedings either, with Brooke Kinsella grittily alluring as troubled teen Charlie Silver.

Special mention early on must also go to Bryan Dick as the much put-upon Paul. His every involuntary shoulder shrug and frail attitudes reveal the youth's cocky insecurity in great detail. He never comes out of character for a second, and makes for a great side-show all of his own.

Not that there's any need for distraction however, as the biting interplay between Charlie's quivering hurt and her teacher's bohemian bonhomie comes into play. Along the way, the predicaments of the modern teacher are thrown into sharp relief. Exactly how do you control someone's aggressive taunts without laying so much as a finger on them? The answer, in Miss Fry's case, is through music. Finding a hidden chink in Charlie's armour, she channels the girl's rebellion into creativity by stealth.

This is hardly a mean feat in real or dramatic terms. The fact that Kinsella and Oberman deliver some of the most believable scenes you'll see on a stage all year is credit to both themselves and director Jonathan Lloyd. The fourth character, Daniel Scott-Croxford as Lee, represents the extreme edge of bullishness, but Almond finds saving graces for him too. The adolescent tear between respectability and peer acceptance is prevalent here. Indeed, some adults are torn between the two all their lives, as the enigmatic Miss Fry reveals.

For a mere quartet of actors to hold the attention so unerringly through 90 uninterrupted minutes is extraordinary. Pin-drop silence accompanied this scholarly piece throughout, proving that at its best theatre really can be an education, education, education. Tony Blair and his cronies might hope that a rendition of this particular political broadside doesn't find its way into the TV schedules ahead of the next election.

Gareth Thompson


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