EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION at Bristol Old Vic

It’s 1997 on the day after Tony Blair’s election victory with him promising to invest in education. The UK has won the Eurovision song contest and Cool Britannia is beginning to look, well, pretty cool. What could possibly go wrong?

The Bristol based Wardrobe Ensemble continue their trademark foray into the mildly political and highly entertaining series of plays in this show which returns from a triumphant run in the Edinburgh Fringe.

The setting is very swiftly established and characters take immediate shape.  We are in a secondary school rosy with optimism about imminent investment.  There is Tobias the anglophile German teacher on a placement, Sue the kindly drama teacher who wants to bring English alive, an ineffectual but well-meaning Head as well as Louise the ambitious imaginary bazooka-toting Head of Discipline.  A great introduction by the very funny James Newton as Teutonic Tobias sets things off brilliantly. Great work!

There is more than a smattering of 90’s music soundtrack as well as a host of cultural references ranging from Tamagotchis to Turkey Twizzlers. Although these are fun, they are over-blown and after a dozen cultural allusions we have well and truly got the message. Could try harder.

Where the show triumphs is in the slick, polished dance moves and smartly delivered choreography involving desks, chairs and a never ending opening of swirling classroom doors.  Sound, Design and lighting is superb, courtesy of Lucy Sierra and Katherine Williams who add an impressively professional polish which transforms an otherwise Fringe show to big school theatre.  Direction by Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton adds a sharp and incisive pace which never flags.  An awful lot of homework has gone into well-synchronised cues and exuberant routines involving all seven members of the cast.  Full marks!

The plot took a little while to get going amid all this time and place setting, but we did get to meet intelligent and angry Emily Greenslade, brilliantly and convincingly played by Emily Greenslade.  She is an articulate and feisty student rebelling against what she sees as an injustice perpetrated by an officious system that she can’t buy into.  Emily’s rebellion and the impact it has on the school is dispassionately analysed by Tobias and his contact with her is in turn hilarious and sincerely touching.  Jesse Meadows sensitive portrayal of the ‘killing them by kindness’ drama teacher Sue Belltop-Doyle is another highlight. Top of the class.

The show suffers from a duality of story which not only wants to make a point about the erosion of state funding and current state of education in austerity, but deals predominantly with the various teacher’s approach to dealing with an unruly pupil and the link is never compellingly made. The plot is entertaining and very funny, but lacks real punch. See me later.

However, with the creative dynamism that the Wardrobe Ensemble have gathered together as well as the fine acting skills and enthusiastic youthful following, the future promises even greater heights for this company.  As the song says, ‘Things can only get better.’   ★★★☆☆   Bryan Mason   4th November 2017