This was a daring and inventive piece but quite difficult to experience; a modern classroom version of Sartre’s Huis Clos, where 3 characters are placed in a room (two students and a young teacher in a detention room) and mentally torture the hell out of each other for what at times seems like eternity.
There was quality acting across the board, but Olivia Duffin who plays Taylor really put on an electric performance, throwing in some quite shocking moments. Sometimes you’re not sure if you are meant to laugh or not, either with her or because of her behaviour. Her aggression, racism and increasing levels of disrespect are appalling. However, despite her behaviour, her fighting attitude and audacity gives her a weird kind of kudos and fosters concern for the root of her obvious frustration.
It wasn’t as easy to have sympathy for the bland, incapable teacher, even though it’s clear he is way over his head trying to keep control of this rapidly unravelling situation. His obsession with following the prescribed rules gives him no space to get real and talk honestly with the students, which underneath their aggression is what they actually need. The play touches on some important sad realities of classroom dynamics in Britain today; the fact that the personal problems of the students, including racism, Islamophobia and the hypersexualisation of adolescence are beyond the remit of the teacher even though they spill over into the classroom situation. It also underscores the fact that many British teenagers now experience the pressures of a social world from which most teachers are completely divorced and are helpless to guide them, especially if they come from a completely different background.
The pressure mounts as the play continues, forcing the characters to reveal some of their personal histories, fears and frustrations, but it’s thinly veiled or outright hostility that drives the process. As the power struggles and shifting alliances intensify, you’re no longer sure who you like and you dislike, until you are forced to accept them as full human beings rather than one-dimensional characters. This gradually rounding out of the characters is what gives the play its power.
In a way the detention room became like a therapy room, a modern Breakfast Club, but empathetic sharing and listening it certainly is not, except perhaps on the part of the audience. Interestingly, two friends joined me for the performance, and one was full of sympathy for the teacher’s predicament and the other nothing but contempt for his weak character. I wondered how the rest of the audience felt. The strong acting and lively pace certainly makes it worthy of FOUR STARS.