Class – New Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review

Class – New Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review by Paddy McGovern

Class at The New Theatre, Essex St. East – Until 14th Oct

A schoolroom during a meeting between parents and their son’s teacher is the setting for CLASS, written and directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan. If the setting suggests the play’s title, its significance doesn’t end there; the writers are focused on class in a wider context than just school.

Jayden’s parents, mechanic, Brian, and his part time hairdresser wife, Donna, have been invited by their son’s teacher, Ray McCafferty, to come and discuss their son’s learning difficulties. However, as the play progresses, the parents also have things to discover, about themselves and each other. Even Mr. McCafferty may not have all the answers.

The writers probe our received ideas about social class and its role in determining how well children develop their potential both in school and as adults. They seem to suggest that our own upbringing is so deeply imprinted that we fail to recognise it, how it affects our interactions with and preconception of others. The contrast between middle-class teacher and working class parents is repeatedly highlighted and not through language alone. While the play is hugely entertaining, it raises serious educational and social issues including the problem of adequate resources to provide for individual learning needs and the difficulty of breaking the cycle of educational and economic disadvantage. Exchanges between teacher and pupils are unfailingly entertaining, but they also open a window onto the children’s home lives and explain their vulnerability in a way that is moving and authentic. Issues arise naturally and inevitably from the human situation before us on stage; nothing seems contrived or preachy.

The writers are brilliantly served by their cast. Will O’Connell’s earnest, preppy and precise Mr McCafferty is perfect, the quintessential middle-class teacher, genuinely committed to the welfare of his pupils. His attempts to do his best for them – and for their parents – are totally convincing. Glimpses of his home life explain his intense, guarded personality. Sincere in his attempts to communicate, his language and accent remain a barrier to full connection with the parents. His exasperation at being misunderstood and the father’s feeling of being patronised generate a lot of the comedy, while highlighting how class distinction influences our responses to each other as we go about our daily lives.

Stephen Jones’s Brian is a complex character, frustrated by his present situation and past mistakes but clinging to the hope that he can put things right. Belligerent by times but brittle underneath, well-intentioned but impulsive, he carries the scars of his own school experience. It is a hugely demanding role, one that in lesser hands could slide into cliché. Jones nails the conflicting impulses and emotions from minute to minute, all the fine shifts in feeling and motivation. It is a totally compelling performance.

Sarah Morris as his separated wife is a perfect foil, far more grounded than either of the men, a determined, independent-minded woman. She defines the distinction between victim and survivor, rising above an experience of school that has dented her confidence but not destroyed it. Morris’s versatility shows in her doubling as an uninhibited nine-year old pupil, nosey and needy but good-natured, her family life saying so much about class, deprivation and their effects on childhood and beyond. All that is missing from her hilarious dance routine is for her to leap onto a table-top to Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive”! For have no doubt, she will.

The characters are beautifully realised both in the writing and the acting. Dialogue almost always rings true, with just the occasional lapse, such as the (correct) use of “assume” where “presume” would be more usual. This show rings true on many levels.  It should be high on your “must see” list as it continues its run until October 14th, with additional 2. 30 pm performances on October  7th, 8th and 14th.

Cast and Creative Team – 
Written and Directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan
Cast: Stephen Jones, Sarah Morris and Will O’Connell
Set and Costume Design: Maree Kearns
Lighting Design: Kevin Smith

Venue: The New Theatre
Dates: Oct 3–6 & 10–13, 7.30pm, Oct 7 & 14, 2.30pm & 7.30pm, Oct 8, 2.30pm
Tickets: €14–€20
Duration: Approx. 75 mins. No interval.

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