Review: Class (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe)
Iseult Golden and David Horan's socially-conscious play takes place at a parents-teacher meeting in a classroom
School sticks with you – perhaps for life. Returning to their old classroom for a meeting with their son's primary school teacher, two parents revert to old ways in Iseult Golden and David Horan's socially-conscious play. Brian scuffs his heels and scribbles on the blackboard. Donna, squeezed onto a child-sized chair, raises her hand to ask a question.
Education shapes us – and not just with knowledge. As the genial Mr McCafferty presses home to the pair, "We learn, at an early age, how to interact with people". It is, he adds, very hard to unlearn and Class looks at the ways an education system that professes to want the best for every pupil inadvertently instills class divisions and, as Kat Woods' Killymuck also argues, entrenches social immobility.
Taxi driver Brian and his recent ex Donna have been called in to discuss their nine year-old son Jayden's educational needs after a standard test suggested low literacy levels. Mr McCafferty wants their permission to bring in an education psychologist to better understand his "learning differences".
He's a good teacher – the kids' favourite – who routinely goes the extra mile, but the meeting grows increasingly fractious as parents' frustrations and teacher's prejudices seep to the surface.
Class is, in essence, a play that kicks against an exclusionary establishment in miniature: the school a microcosm of a middle-class order. Will O'Connell's well-meaning teacher not only controls the language of their meeting, often sticking to an approved educational script of "disparities" and "percentiles" that shut Brian and Donna out, he also has both the means and the manners to talk himself out of legal and professional trouble in a way they simply don't.
Thematically tidy and careful with its incremental dramas, Class is nonetheless rather contrived – a problem exacerbated by cutting between parent-teacher meeting and post-school homework club that sees adults playing kids. Yet, Golden and Horan make you care for their characters: all three adults doing their best. As Brian, Stephen Jones counts his breaths in the corner, trying to unpick aggressive tendencies with anger management techniques, while Sarah Morris shows how hard Donna tries to resist her ex's boisterous, playground charm as she tries to move on. It goes to show we never stop learning – or re-learning – despite a system that aims at equality and instils exclusivity.