Friday, 21 November 2014

Almost-a-review: God Bless the Child

Not quite a review because I didn't see all of Molly Davies' God Bless the Child. Not because I didn't want to, but because 10 minutes from the end the performance had to be cancelled due to one of the cast getting ill. As it's pretty much sold out tonight's audience had to be refunded rather than reschedule to another date, so this is the best I can do as far as reviewing Vicky Featherstone's production goes.

The first time I ever went to the Royal Court Upstairs, it had been turned into a pretty realistic B&B room in Scarborough, and this is the most uncanny transformation I've seen there since: Chloe Lamford has turned the attic space into the primary school classroom of Class 4N, who have been chosen to trial a new government teaching initiative.

Badger Do Best is a series of patronising stories, class songs, rules about how to set up the classroom and discipline the children, designed to teach them how to behave; if they learn anything else in the process, that seems to be pretty much an afterthought. But if the project goes to a second trial term, the school will get a hefty financial boost it desperately needs, so headmistress Ms Evitt (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is keen for it to do well.

The trouble is, Badger Do Best doesn't really work, but the pressure is on teacher Ms Newsome (Ony Uhiara) to show that it does. As the children get bored and restless with the repetitive nature of the system, and their parents start to complain that their academic progress has halted, Ms Newsome is pushed to breaking point when one of the children, Louie (Nancy Allsop, alternating with Bobby Smalldridge as Louis,) proclaims herself King and starts a full-on rebellion.

Davies' satire on underfunded schools and initiatives that tell every child they're special, while striving to ensure none of them are, is effective and often funny. Amanda Abbington as Sali, the creator of Badger Do Best, is a chillingly Dolores Umbridge-style monster, who clashes with teaching assistant Mrs Bradley (Julie Hesmondhalgh,) the only person who seems to be worried about whether the children are actually learning anything or not.

Featherstone's production is at its best when it veers into somewhat creepy territory - under Louie's rule, the children border on going full Village of the Damned, and as she starts to come up with her own alternative stories, they have a sinister accuracy and understanding of the lies children are habitually told. If the play's ending remains as scripted, it goes for something of an unfortunately preachy tone, but I had to get that from the playtext programme, as the play had to be halted due to an "incident." We weren't given more specifics so I can only assume the children had started eating each other.

God Bless the Child by Molly Davies is booking until the 20th of December at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs (returns and day seats only.)

Running time: Advertised as 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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