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Education Education Education: Politically-Charged Farce

Spoilers (and unapologetic school puns) afoot.

Friday 2nd May, 1997, 8:35am. Tony Blair has just won the general election in a landslide. The teachers at Wordsworth Comprehensive School excitedly await their share of £3 billion in school funding. If only they can make it through the Year 11s' last day before study leave first...

Quotes from real voters in 1997 finding out that the Tories were finally out of power light up a screen. Exercise books and the cast’s old school photos hang from the ceiling. With this set-up, I expected another school-based drama, like The History Boys but with tamagotchis. What we got was an absolute riot of laughs, and likely the funniest student production I have ever seen. I have to thank director Eden Vaughan and Theatre Group for bringing this play from The Wardrobe Ensemble (based in Bristol) to Leeds.

A lot of the comedy relies on throwbacks to school days - a whistle stop tour of nostalgia, from hilariously bad performances in GCSE drama (featuring a pronunciation of Guinevere which, appropriate to the 90s, made it sound like she'd taken a large amount of MDMA) to flirty year 10s "hi Sir"-ing their way down the corridor (seriously, why did we call male teachers that?). The portrayals of staff are just as recognisable and cringey: there’s the PE teacher totally unqualified to cover a French lesson and the gung-ho Head of Discipline. Indeed, the play's success is due to its accessibility – after all, everyone understands school. The script experiments with this personal experience by encouraging the cast to insert their own names as the students which created some in-jokes for friends and family in the audience. Meanwhile, 90s bangers provided further nostalgia, with only one minor opening-night hiccup in the first scene that was masterfully handled by Alex Dybell’s quick thinking and added further laughs to their opening monologue as Tobias ze new German teacher.

Angus Bell as Tim, the swaggering PE teacher. Thanks to Abby Swain for production photography.

The play feels familiar despite it taking place before the majority of cast and production team were born, mainly because after thirteen years of the Conservatives, it’s easy to imagine the sense of hopefulness that voters experienced with New Labour. The most successful jokes played with this gap in time, namely the earnest discussion about Britain joining the single currency and becoming a European superpower. Indeed, the play balances silly farce with real political meaning. The production team (AD Matthew Reynolds, co-producers Luke Holland and Louisa Walsh, shadowed by Conor Corey and James Barr) flexed their AV muscles by bookending the performance with montages: a prologue of 90s pop culture and an epilogue that depressingly summed up political events since 9/11 and the downfall of Tony Blair (particularly timely as this month marks 20 years since the invasion of Iraq). To wear my historian’s hat, my only criticism here is that I wished the archive footage showed more of ordinary people’s response to political events – where were the millions marching against the Iraq War? I raise this because I feel it fits into the overall message of the play: yes, everything is shit right now, but if we remember that we are not passive bystanders, in the words of D:Ream, Things Can Only Get Better. The only other aspect that seemed a bit strange owed to The Wardrobe Ensemble’s script: we learn that the school eventually closes down and other ventures struggle to get funding. Wouldn’t it be more accurate if Wordsworth was subsumed by a multi-academy trust?

Lunchtime banter. Left to right actors Tom Grice, Maisie Stalham, Angus Bell, Scarlett Allen, James Barr, Siobhan Ward

Nitpicking aside, Education Education Education is an ensemble performance bursting with talent – the cast bounce off each other for an energy-packed 100 minutes without an interval. There are no weak performances but I have to single out a few actors for really understanding the assignment. Angus Bell earnt the biggest laughs of the night for his portrayal of the juvenile PE teacher, showcasing his talents for physical comedy. Eliza Christy’s portrayal of the ambitious member of the Senior Leadership Team (see cover photo) was hilariously accurate (maybe she’s been watching a lot of Monica Geldart on TikTok?) while Siobhan Ward’s emotional soliloquy towards the end balanced out the play’s levity, albeit while donning that Union Jack dress. Aside from Scarlett Allen, who sympathetically portrayed the troublesome pupil with nuance, and Tobias who acts as a narrator and provides some continental perspective on the dire state of English schools, all the cast double up their teaching roles with roles as pupil, and thus demonstrate impressive acting range. All the cast deserve an A* for not breaking – I cannot fathom how the cast kept a straight face during a hilariously exaggerated sex scene (overseen by intimacy coordinator Amy Kaye).

Sue channels Ginger Spice in her monologue. Scarlett and Tobias watch on.

Nothing quite beats the feeling of a sold-out Stage One theatre laughing in unison. I started feeling all gooey and sentimental for how unique and phenomenal student theatre is. Education Education Education could have made for an awkward performance, had the cast not have given it their all, dancing across the stage, and even into the stalls. Honestly, my qualms are admittedly pedantic and pales in significance to the absolute riot that erupted in stage@leeds, ending with a well-deserved in the standing ovation. As a reviewer for The Scribe, I’ve seen countless plays, both student and professional, and this is easily my personal fave – its joy is infectious and just the lighthearted yet considered entertainment we need to push through to the April break.

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