New Festival of Theatre

Belgrade Theatre Coventry

Until 19 July

All events FREE but donations welcome

More info at www.inspiringcuriosity.co.uk

Two showcase events premiered yesterday to highlight the quality and range of work on offer and to celebrate 50 years of Theatre in Education at the Belgrade Theatre.

The Belgrade Young Black Theatre Company involves young people in devising Broken but I detect an extremely experienced hand at the tiller of this complex and clever play about the effects of hot housing young academically excellent students in order to massage statistics at schools.

The story involves a young deputy head teacher, Elaine Smith (Lorrein Kumbuwa), holding an imaginary conversation with her own school friends about following the vocation of teaching propelled by hero worship of their own brilliant teacher, Miss Jolly. broken

They note her dismissal of a gifted but awkward pupil Melody (Beth Bell) in favour of Rene Gold (Esra Powell) who ‘plays the game’ better for as long as she can before she cracks.

It was clever in involving dance particularly for the fight sequence and I liked what my Father, a head teacher at ‘grimy primary’ school in London’s east end, called the ‘rulers up, rulers down’ method of teaching espoused by Elaine Smith.

Her nemesis, Nicola Berry (Imelda Miguni), loses the fight to teach her way and leaves. The play raises questions about the differences between education, the ‘drawing out’ of potential and training, and simple inculcation of knowledge; cleverness and intelligence and ultimately what education is actually for. At the risk of drawing the wrong conclusions I saw a kind of Black History Girls here a la Alan Bennett.

The second premiere The Impossible Language of the Time was a Chris O’Connell piece from the Belgrade Senior Youth Theatre, a promisingly passionate post-apocalyptic work involving a disparate group of dispossessed young people who are protesting – some about their own condition as minorities - but most about the death of an unarmed young man at the hands of violent, politicised police.

The piece is rounded by the sister (Jessica Hobson) of the dead man sewing up her lips to protest. Silent or noisy protests don’t work, and the band, under the leadership of a kind of Russell Brand stand-up comic (Matthew Williams), comes across an abandoned city and the chance to build their own utopia.

When they can’t agree about anything the experiment seems doomed to failure. A great quote from a Birmingham punk chap in the 1990s came into my mind; ‘You can’t organise anarchists’. But ‘Plus ca Change’ was the quote that emerged in the play that set the seal on failure.

The telling scene was the ‘into work’ interview where one young woman (Christine Smith) is forced to admit she hasn’t spent 35 hours on the internet and filling in application forms for jobs because society itself is falling to bits. She loses her only income for four weeks.

Jane Howard

08-07-15

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