God Bless the Child (Royal Court)

The Royal Court Upstairs becomes a classroom for Molly Davies’ new play

Mr Newsmoe (Ony Uhiara) marshals her charges
Mr Newsmoe (Ony Uhiara) marshals her charges
© Manuel Harlan

The transformation of the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs is startling for this new play from Molly Davies, which takes a satirical scalpel to the jugular of the education system.

Designer Chloe Lamford has created a completely immersive classroom, in which the audience cling to the fringes like Ofsted inspectors. We're here to bear witness to a new education scheme, Badger Do Best, which is being trialled on a class in a struggling state primary.

It's not a spoiler to reveal that Badger Do Best is a far from perfect educational philosophy, revolving as it does around a series of books penned by self-styled (and self-interested) guru Sali Raynor. Its true purpose will become apparent, but it's essentially an attempt to cocoon children in an anodyne world where everything is fine as long as you do your best.

Of course, the actual methodology is irrelevant. Badger Do Best (which is the name of the character at the centre of the stories), is a metaphor for all those bogus government initiatives that are introduced with alarming frequency to try and improve the education system by removing power from those who need it most.

And its chief victim in this case is Ms Newsome (Ony Uhiara), a clearly talented teacher who struggles to make Badger Do Best work in order that the school receive much-needed investment, a point hammered home by her under-pressure head Ms Evitt (Nikki Amuka Bird).

In the middle of it all are the pupils, a class of eight played with admirable naturalism by a rotating team of young actors. They soon rebel against Badger, led by their ringleader Louis, a smart kid who tells the kind of dark stories denied them by Raynor's quack philosophy.

When the guru herself finally appears (played by Amanda Abbington, sporting an orange turtle neck and owl pendant), she naturally presses home the advantages of her commercially-driven system, which involves such drivel as 'listening lilypads' and 'thinking toadstools'. But will she be able to convince the children of its merits in time for a visit from the government big wigs?

Vicky Featherstone's engrossing production runs at a brisk 1 hour 45 straight through, providing a wholly believable glimpse into a contemporary classroom (the only implausible element is that there are only eight in a class).

Although it rams home its point a little too forcefully, and comes across as somewhat bitter-edged in light of the playwright's personal teaching experience, it nevertheless boasts some exceptional performances – not least from the younger cast members (of whom Bobby Smallridge was a particular stand out as Louis) – and is a valuable addition to the Court's revolution-themed season.