THEATRE REVIEW:  School Play – Southwark Playhouse  

We’re in a primary school head teacher’s office and Anna Reid’s set captures the atmosphere and detail beautifully. The play has a worthy stab at dealing with the dynamics, tension and issues too. Tests dominate the thinking because without certain results the school won’t get the all-vital pupil premium money to fund things such as trips to the National History Museum. So the school brings in young high flying graduates to teach after school revision classes – half welcomed, half loathed by full-time staff. What a melting pot! And it was inspired by MacKeith’s own experience of working as an imported tutor in a London primary school.

Ann Ogbomo is terrific as Jo, the head teacher. Her character is under enormous stress both at work and at home. Ogbomo conveys that with verve, passion and control whether she’s taking deep breaths, weeping, shouting or visibly and audibly switching on “professionalism.” She’s a very engaging and adept actor to watch. Lovely work too from Oliver Dench as Tom, the young graduate who is funny, sardonic and, eventually devastated. Fola Evans-Akingbola completes the three person main cast with a pleasing performance as the school secretary. There are also a couple of nice cameos from Kevin Howarth as the gruff, grumpy caretaker and as a very angry, threatening parent. At the end of the play a chirpy child arrives in the form of Gemma Fray or Vida King.

Although it is a remarkable achievement for a very young playwright (early 20s) to have got School Play staged by Antic Face at Southwark Playhouse with Charlie Parham directing, MacKeith’s inexperience sometimes shows. There are too many stretches which are quite amusing but add very little to the thrust so they fall flat. We get, for example, too many underdeveloped subplots and it takes a long time to reach anything really meaty such as Ann Ogbomo’s bitter, angry outburst in the third act.

Review by Susan Elkin