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Bush Theatre, London
EXPLORING the interchanging relationships between two estranged working-class parents and their son’s well-intentioned teacher in a run-down Irish primary school, this carefully constructed three-hander — first seen at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre — is notable for some outstanding performances.
Stephen Jones masterfully portrays weekend dad Brian, dealing with a well of pent-up anger at his life. Forced back into the school to face the truth about his son’s educational problems, childhood resentment of authority soon resurfaces, while Sarah Morris gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as as his poorly educated wife Donna.
Reverting to childhood subservience on returning to the school she used to attend, and in the face of her outspoken husband, she gradually comes into her own when forced to make a stand.
During a meeting where both parents go through the emotional wringer and home truths, personal angst and social deprivation all bubble beneath the surface or explode, teacher Mr McCafferty (Will O’Connell) undergoes his own painful journey too.
His caring, teacherly demeanour and professionalism is progressively stripped away in the face of work pressures and Brian’s increasing hostility.
Iseult Golden and David Horan’s joint script and direction skilfully interweave the parents’ evening with scenes from the classroom as Jones and Morris effectively double up as underachieving pupils.
Switching between parent and son, Jones creates a real sense of the generations repeating themselves, while Morris is an irrepressible ball of juvenile energy.
The humorous classroom scenes not only illustrate the chalk-face issues confronted by Mr McCafferty but also reveal his sensitivity to his students and flair for the job. But faced directly with adult reality, his good intentions prove insufficient, misjudged and destructive.
The battle for status grows more complex and unpredictable as events unfold and the classroom becomes a microcosm of the world outside.
Although the emotional outbursts sometimes retrace previous ground, this is a finely crafted and wonderfully observed drama, deftly switching between humour, pathos and anger and the cast excel as their characters develop and tensions escalate.
Runs until June 1, box office: bushtheatre.co.uk
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