“What would you do differently next time Badger?”
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Royal Court’s upstairs space for God Bless The Child is the complete immersiveness of Chloe Lamford’s set design. It may sound clichéd but it really does feel like you’re stepping into a primary school classroom and the level of detail is so pitch-perfect, it isn’t long before you utterly forget where you are and get swept up in reading the various school projects on the wall and admiring the crayon-colouring of the flags of the world. It’s a great start to what emerges as a slyly subversive play that shows you’re never too young to be a revolutionary.
As with Vivienne Franzmann and Mogadishu, Molly Davies brings a wealth of teaching experience to her playwriting after many years in the job and in shows in the little details of its characters. The enthusiasm with which Ony Uhiara’s youthful Ms Newsome seizes on new teaching initiative Badger Do Best, the cautious eye on finances that Nikki Amuka-Bird’s head Ms Evitt maintains, the seen-it-all pragmatism of old-school teaching assistant Mrs Bradley, perfectly cast in Julie Hesmondhalgh. And as government-appointed educational Svengali, Amanda Abbington’s Sali Rayner has a chilling evangelical zeal.
The stars of the show are Class 4N though, the guinea pigs for this new scheme which is as much about behaviour management and conflict resolution than actually helping them to learn. But as they try out such innovations as Thinking Toadstools, Badger Buddies and Listening Lilypads in preparation for an inspection visit from the Department for Education to release the next tranche of funding, a deliciously insubordinate streak kicks in in the form of Nancy Allsop’s Louie who sets about fermenting rebellion amongst her comrades in a remarkably assured performance.
Two groups of young actors share the roles of 4N (I saw the Green Team) and in an ingenious twist from director Vicky Featherstone, the alternative group of actors (Orange Team) is headed up by a male Louis which will undoubtedly bring its own fresh dynamic to the play. (It also bafflingly has one fewer character in it, there’s no Aaron in the Orange Team – any clues why gratefully received!). It’s a shame the schedule for the different teams isn’t published as I’d happily go again to see how Bobby Smalldridge’s Louis differs in the role (or not, as the case may be).
The play chimes perfectly with the Royal Court’s overarching season of revolution, and it is perhaps telling that it takes a class of primary school kids to stand up to the zealots and ideologues shaping education policy in their inimitable fashion and responding to the most narrow-minded interpretations of what classrooms should and could bring out of children. One wonders if an invitation has been extended to Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and their ilk and just what they would make of Davies and Featherstone’s work and all its creativity.