Rarely have I felt so shocked and distressed at the end of play and it’s a huge credit to director Suzann McLean and her cast of ten accomplished young professionals that they could have done this to me, a seasoned and hard bitten theatregoer, in only 45 minutes.
Anders Lustgarten’s powerful play, originally written for National Theatre Connections, explores the dynamic in a secondary school classroom when everyone starts thinking about extremism. It opens when the teacher has just left the room with one Muslim boy and two policeman who have come to the school. The other pupils don’t know why although they soon guess: this is Prevent, the Governmental anti-terrorism programme in action. It advises people such as teachers, doctors and nurses to be eyes on the ground and report their suspicions of radicalisation.
The students, of course, have ten different personalities and come from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. They are a microcosm of everyday inner city life. The whole studio space is set out as a classroom so that every audience member is, peripherally, part of the class. They rib each other and banter but when does banter become bullying and when does bullying become racism? A long time before the profoundly shocking assault on the Muslim girl, Suhayla (Asha Hassan – outstanding) the horror of which is still nagging at me as I write this review two hours after the show went down. Situations can escalate so fast – it’s hideously realistic theatre.
Every actor in this cast is good and they work very energetically bouncing off each other relentlessly. Marlo Rye, for example, is strong as the very articulate Darren parroting – and trying out – the racist arguments he has heard from the adults in his life. Denneil Dunbar does a lovely job as the usually reasonable, bright Chris and I liked Kingsley Sowole’s work as the gentle giant of the group. Nanci Love excels as Rachel, who quickly becomes heady with hatred and Nadezhda Stoycheva dancing around, eyes glittering, refusing to return the stolen hijab will stay with me for quite a while.
The purpose of this work is to encourage audiences, especially young audiences to reflect on these issues and the speed with which things can get out of hand. There is a short workshop and Q/A session after each performance. The one I attended brought some very perceptive contributions and questions.