Thursday, 25 August 2016

Review: The Staff Room – Theatre N16

Above a busy pub in Balham, Theatre N16 hosted a full-house for the first performance of Michelle Payne’s one-act play, The Staff Room. Taking place entirely in the staff room of a secondary school in Essex, Payne’s play follows three very different young teachers as they attempt to make sense of teaching, teenagers and their own impending adulthood.

The dynamic between these three personalities is what makes the play instantly engaging, with their differences in thinking and approaches to teaching fuelling the fast-paced dialogue, the driving force that propels the action forward.

Payne’s wittily constructed exchanges between the young teachers create three strong characters and although there are moments in which hyperbolic phrases risk tipping them into stereotype, all three hold their ground as charismatic, yet credible individuals.

Of course, credit must go to the three actors for managing this risk by giving expertly balanced performances and delivering Payne’s comic lines with a very human blend of melodramatic exclamations and more muted sarcasm.

Alison, an impassioned history teacher, is attempting to save the world one recycling bin at a time, but Hilary Murnane displays a subtle mocking of her own attitudes, redeeming this character’s relatable traits throughout.

Ria, the PE teacher, is a prime example of someone on the brink of adulthood, and Faye Derham really draws out her internal conflicts in opinion and motive in a way that makes you both laugh and despair.

Hugo is the real comic of the play, shamelessly admitting to knowing none of his student’s names and to having become a geography teacher for the promise of school trips, and Craig Webb enhances this character with a relentless energy and endearing clown-like mannerisms.

Payne’s impressive grasp on creating effective and engaging dialogue is highlighted through moments such as parents’ evening, when we catch snippets of their appointments with overlapping lines and shared sentences. Not only does this emphasise the fundamental differences between the three teachers’ approaches to teaching, but it provokes line after line of laughter.

Though The Staff Room flourishes on stage and fits this dramatic form well, the nature of Michelle Payne’s dialogue and humour is undoubtedly suited to television, and it is almost impossible not to envisage the quick-fire exchanges of these three memorable characters as part of a successful sitcom. Either way, it is clear that this play is only going to get bigger and better from here.

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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