The basic premise of Jonathan Lewis’ latest play in his Education, Education, Education trilogy is a simple one: stressed boy sits exam.
What should be a fairly normal occurrence becomes rather unnecessary drama when Tom’s father, Mark, pays Tom’s girlfriend to give them the questions to the exam paper. Moral mother, Charlotte (played rather stiffly by Imogen Stubbs) ends up finding out and hitting the roof. How could her son possibly be encouraged to cheat?
I can’t help but wonder: does it really matter? It’s hardly as if Tom’s taking the answers in with him, fiddling his actual grades, or risking his actual life to get an A*. The conflict in this play seems to be far too every day to really make an impact.
The play takes place in one open plan living room – so swishy and beautifully designed it’s jealousy-inducing. The set immediately implies importance, stature and structure – everything must be done ‘just so’. The play kicks off showing run-of-the-mill family life, a nice way to introduce the audience to the characters before they morph from a normal household to a cacophonous wreck of a family.
Jonathan Lewis’ writing is funny, witty and well-timed and his acting suits his writing perfectly. Matt Whitchurch is cast beautifully as his angsty teen, creating a thoroughly believable character. His girlfriend, Frida, is in fact the total opposite. Robyn Cara is irritating in the role, and I highly doubt any seventeen year old would speak to her boyfriend’s parents in such a rude and high-handed tone, no matter what secrets lie between them.
Is Frida principled or not? Is Charlotte a pushy mother or not? Is Mark corrupt or not? Is Tom in need of more serious help or not? The characters don’t have consistency and it’s hard for the audience to empathize with them fully. The plot falls foul of the same issue – we’re all geared up for a gripping and secret-exposing second half but we’re actually treated to unrealistic squabbles and fist-fights. Over an envelope.
There are some lovely funny moments in the script that has the audience in stitches. I’ll let them off dipping rice cakes in hummus for the joke that follows, and Whitchurch’s boisterous humour shines throughout. His trumpet skills at the end of the show are also grand, though why the heck we were made to sit through a weird spotlighted trumpet solo is beyond me – can anyone fill me in? I think the point drifted over my head.
In fact, I think the vast majority of the ‘point’ went over my head – or perhaps the point is there isn’t a point. In education, in corruption, in unnecessary pressure. Perhaps Lewis just wanted to demonstrate the utter ludicrously in his character’s responses to the hypothetical importance of Tom’s final A-level exam.
Whatever ‘the point’, it’s certainly a thought-provoking piece.
Catch The Be All and End All at York Theatre Royal until 19th May.
Photograph credited to Anthony Robling.