Been quite a contrast in what I’ve seen this week, on Wednesday evening I went to Urinetown, a musical as stupid as the name suggests, and then today I saw God Bless The Child, a play that questions what happens when we teach a “One size fits all” style; yes it was slightly more serious than Urinetown. Both brilliant in their own ways, both leaving me wanting more.
So for now, God Bless The Child, at the fantastic Royal Court in Sloane Square. This place is fast becoming my favourite venue. Three shows there this year and on each of those three occasions I’ve walked away in absolutely wonder at what I have just seen, and been left thinking about it for a long time afterwards. Also helps that it’s damn easy for me to get there from where I live.
So, back to the play then…
In short, it is a play about what happens when a school tests out a new teaching method called “Badger Do Best”. And what happens is that slowly the children rebel against the teaching, with one young child (a boy when I saw it, but I understand it’s a girl at other times) becoming the centre of everything, corrupting those around him and doing his best to bring down the system.
The casting is genius, seven young children form the classroom, and these are the real stars of the play, so young and yet so faultless in their parts. And add to this just four adults, including both Julie Hesmondhalgh, clearly enjoying life after Corrie as she plays a teaching assistant and the voice of reason amongst all the madness, and Amanda Abbington, the guru who designed “Badger Do Best” and is determined to see it succeed at all costs.
The play moves at a good pace, one hour and forty five without a break, but it flies by, each scene leading seamlessly into the next. As it develops it becomes more disturbing in how the central child manipulates those around him, all leading to a stunning end scene where members of the audience suddenly become supporting actors, and the children give their final verdict on what it all means.
And that final scene is probably what leaves you most disturbed, hearing such condemnation from the mouths of a group of young children who shouldn’t be giving such powerful speeches.
The writer clearly has a strong view on education, and some people will agree, others won’t. And at times there was a little uncertainty in my own mind on what it was getting at. But I still left with my mind full of thoughts, about how free thought can be suppressed, how a teaching method so rigid can destroy individuality.
What disturbed me most as I watched the play was not just the idea that we are destroying a child’s mind by the way we teach, but that the “one size fits all” method and the suppression of individual thought isn’t just one that could be creeping into our schools, but into other aspects of our lives too. I kept thinking of “The Emperors New Clothes”, everyone too scared to stand up against it. We have corporate work places who want everyone to be a drone, following their leaders blindly without questioning what they are being asked to do, and then we have the mass media force feeding us the same ideas of what we should like or dislike. And I’m sure there are many more examples that could be given. In every case it seems that dissenters aren’t welcomed.
Is this what the writer was aiming at? I don’t know, it’s just my interpretation of what was a thought provoking piece of work. It got my mind working overtime, and at the end of the day, that is what good theatre should all be about anyway.