Little Platoons, Bush Theatre, London
Monday 31 January 2011
A couple of years ago, Steve Waters stole a march on his fellow dramatists with The Contingency Plan, a double-bill of plays about global warming.
Now he's pulled off the same trick with Little Platoons, his lively (if less successful) drama about the controversial issue of free schools and parent-power in education. With journalist Toby Young striving to set up just such an establishment on its West London doorstep, the Bush and its current Schools Season is the ideal venue for the piece. Indeed, Young has provided Waters with a multitude of pointers and, for his pains, now finds himself partially caricatured in the character of Nick Orme (excellent Andrew Woodall), the mouthy failed entrepreneur who is spearheading a similar campaign.
Will free schools simply rake money from the state system, while offering pushy, white middle-class parents a spuriously progressive cover for siphoning off their children from chav-infested, multicultural comprehensives? That has been the position of Rachel, a music teacher at the local Mandela High. Not that she's keen on sending her own 12-year-old son there and when her newly attached ex-husband – a bearded leftie – threatens to uproot the boy so that he can go to Bicester Grammar, Rachel attends a meeting of the "free schools" committee and, before you can say "Michael Gove", finds herself bedding down with the enemy.
Premiered in Nathan Curry's punchily acted production, the play trains a witty eye on the bourgeois hypocrisies that this debate throws into sharp relief. It also offers a drolly acerbic portrait of Coalition Britain. Joanne Froggatt turns in a delicious cameo as a groomed, non-U-posh Department of Education apparatchik, spouting Big Society-speak while warily conscious it only takes, say, one homophobic Christian nutter parent to make the whole campaign go belly-up. But the play is also slanted and links the personal and the political rather mechanically. Splendid Claire Price has the glint of born-again zeal and the fire of personal pain in her eyes. You could easily get the impression, though, that Rachel's dalliance with the free schools project is less a re-examination of her principles than the temporary aberration of a jilted woman in a mid-life crisis. Still, the play ventilates the basic issues with verve.
To 19 February (020 8743 5050)
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