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Wardrobe Ensemble presents Education, Education, Eduaction. Review by Kerenza Evans

In the late nineties, Britain was overtaken by a wave of hope and optimism. This was back when politicians made an effort to lie and promise meaningful change to win the electorate’s trust, as opposed to spewing out hateful rhetoric and being staggeringly incompetent and somehow gaining it anyway. No, in 1997, it really seemed that the country was heading in the right direction. Churning out global superstars from Oasis to the Spice Girls, we’d won the Eurovision Song Contest and Blair was the country’s new Prime Minister, a forward-thinking leader who promised to invest in the children and focus on the titular Education, Education, Education

As the play opens, the teachers at Wordsworth Comprehensive hear the election results and are imbued with joy. A new future is here! More investment in public services! Resources for the schools! However, this joy is as short lived for the teachers as it was for the country as they go back to dealing with the drama of every day life at a failing school. Teacher Sue is exhausted, anxious and losing control of a disengaged class. When she attempts to inject some life into her English lessons and go off-syllabus for a day, she’s berated by fierce ‘Head Disciplinarian’ Louise. Rather than portray Louise as the stereotypical stern teacher, we get the impression she once shared Sue’s optimism and developed her tough exterior to cope with an impossible working environment. This is a theme that runs through the play: how much of these characters’ personalities are a product of their surroundings?

The key student at the centre of the teachers’ anxiety is Emily Greenslade, an aggressive and aggrieved student, kicked off a school trip due to her volatile behaviour. Emily is a difficult student and the system is not built to help pupils (or teachers) who step outside the boundaries of what is expected of them. Her attempts to try to improve are quashed and her individual talents ignored, the results of which trigger a climactic incident. This is a system that fails the students and teachers in equal measure. 

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Education, Education, Education is primarily a comedy, dryly narrated by German language assistant, Tobias. No icon from the 90s escapes a mention, from the Teletubbies to Tamagotchis to the Macarena. It also features a soundtrack that will thrill nostalgic millennials including Katrina and the Waves, the Spice Girls, Take That and Oasis. Both jokes and cultural references come thick and fast in the production's impressively snappy 75 minutes. 

I often come away from plays like Education, Education, Education and feel depressed. Not because it’s bad - far from it – but because the type of people who should be learning from it will almost certainly never see it. Wardrobe Ensemble do a great job of reminding us that while this play may be set in the nineties, the education system is failing and drowning those within it even more severely in the present day.  

 

Education, Education, Education has a four week run at Tralfagar Studios until June 29th. Tickets are available here.