At this rate I'm going to start thinking the Bush Theatre brings me bad luck - both my trips there in the last ten days have ended with the Jubilee Line down, and me taking twice as long as usual to get home. Or maybe it's just their current Schools Season that's unlucky, the second half of which I saw tonight. Where The Knowledge
was well done but felt like it could have applied to any time in the last decade, Steve Waters' Little Platoons
is fiercely topical, dealing with David Cameron's "Big Society" (a euphemism for "if you don't like how things are don't look at us, you sort it out.") Rachel (Claire Price) teaches music at the one school in Shepherd's Bush no parent wants their child to be sent to. But at the same time that she splits up with her partner Martin (Richard Henders,) her own son Sam (Otto Farrant) is sent to that very school. Fearing that, in order to get him into a better school, Martin will convince Sam to move away with him, Rachel resorts to desperate measures and gets involved with a group of local parents trying to set up a new "Free School" in a disused sports shop.
Waters' theme is that while bemoaning the fact that faith schools are being set up under this scheme, anyone setting up one of their own will inevitably end up trying to populate it in their own image, whatever their claims about doing it to help the kids most in need; and that one person's valid selection criteria is another person's discrimination. I thought the second act was a lot stronger than the first. Largely because in order to set up Rachel's involvement with "Concordia Academy" we have to buy into the idea that she gets convinced by a group led by Andrew Woodall's Nick. The blurb informs me he's charismatic but in the play itself the character is just vile - conceited, patronising, lecherous and racist. I also felt like the attempts at comedy in the first act fell flat. The second act is more of a straightforward drama and works a lot better but overall this was a very topical play that had interesting things to say but never quite clicked with me; Nathan Curry's production feels like it could be a little bit tighter, especially when it comes to the comic moments. But maybe people for whom the topic is more immediately relevant will feel differently. The cast (which also includes Susannah Harker plus the entire cast of The Knowledge
) is solid but both acts end with them all being upstaged by an excellent performance from Joanne Froggatt as an acid-tongued civil servant.Little Platoons
by Steve Waters is in repertory until the 19th of February at the Bush Theatre.