What begins as a simple parent-teacher meeting between recently separated Brian (Stephen Jones) and Donna (Sarah Morris), and teacher Mr McAfferty (Will O’Connell), to talk about their son Jayden’s literacy struggles in school, spirals quickly as tension bubbles about social and cultural divides within the classroom. Scenes flicker between the parent-teacher meeting, and also student-teacher after-school ‘homework club’, as Morris and Jones deftly switch between playing Brian and Donna to Jayden and classmate Kaylie. Morris does a particularly good job of switching to an energetic Kaylie at the drop of a hat, really capturing the playfulness of a nine-year-old.
This play confidently asks questions about the complexities of a failing education system. How does a difficult domestic situation affect important decision-making for your children? What decision is ‘right’ as a teacher when school rules conflict with personal ideologies of a course of action? How have both educators and parent alike been jaded by the education system? Is it the children who ultimately lose out amidst all this power play between parent and teacher? There are no conclusive answers, and we are left feeling emotionally sucker-punched by the end.
Mr McAfferty hides behind fancy and unnecessary jargon, angering Brian as he feels spoken down to, as well as reminding Donna of her own experiences being let down by the education system. They begin with the thought that they don’t want their child “going through the rest of his life thinking something is wrong with him”, and Mr McAfferty’s superfluous, almost patronising, language only exacerbates their insecurities and uncertainties.
Time is split between moments of humour, moments of discomfort, and moments of hostility, but they all piece together well to tell an interesting story. We never leave the classroom, creating a confined environment for the escalating drama and shock ending. The characters are well-developed, particular Mr McAfferty, and O’Connell does a brilliant job switching between the soft-spoken personality we see initially, his enthusiastic interaction with the students, and his evolution to condescension towards the parents, then aggressive, then regretful. The scene switches between parent-teacher and student-teacher really highlight the juxtaposition between his two ‘personalities’ and how he changes as the play progresses.
My only criticism would be that 95-minutes seemed a little long, especially with no interval, and although it didn’t struggle to capture my attention for the full length of the play, it did move a little slowly at points. But stellar performances and insightful subject matter still make this play well worth the watch.
- 4 stars