Review: Class at Traverse Theatre

School holds no good memories for Brian (Stephen Jones) and Donna (Sarah Morris), young working class parents with a marriage on the rocks.

It’s looking like their son Jayden will follow a similarly difficult academic route until the patient, if somewhat unintentionally condescending, new teacher Mr McCafferty (Will O’Connell) arrives. Hellbent on ‘doing the right thing’, he calls a defensive Brian and a nervous Donna in to discuss Jayden, whose low test scores suggest a possible ‘learning difference’.

Brian’s therapy group has taught him about trigger words, but despite his breathing exercises, he’s not wholly immune to them. Trigger words include: delinquent, learning difficulty, and psychologist, amongst others – and as Mr Mccafferty obliviously drops each one into conversation, Donna finds out she isn’t exempt from the punch either.

A hearty three hander with meat on its bones, Class (uppercase) takes a ballsy look at class (lowercase) in the classroom.

Not content with a single story analysis, the narrative switches between the parents and the children, holding a mirror up to the intergenerational class cycle and exploring the way that children find themselves stuck repeating their parent’s paths and parents find themselves stuck watching it happen – and sometimes, finding out that their own anxieties perpetuate the pattern.

Jones switches between Brian and Jayden while Morris is both Donna and Kayleigh, a similarly struggling schoolmate who joins Jayden at Mr McCafferty’s homework club. These double roles work well to emphasise the cyclical themes of the play, showing us history repeating itself in action.

The three performers also impressively switch up the relationships and chemistry between one another seamlessly as the narrative moves to and fro, with Jones and Morris’ characterisation and body language as the children especially commendable.

Initially, the character of Kayleigh seems a bit of disjointed departure from the core characters, but her importance soon becomes obvious. This pattern is not unique to this one family; it is repeated again and again throughout the homes of the community.

Indeed, Morris’ performance as Kayleigh offers up one of the most emotional moments as she begs Mr McCafferty to intervene in her homelife. Morris’ emotional range excels again as Donna, projecting frustration and pain-driven strength as she decides to break the cycle of an unsatisfying marriage.

This is smart writing from Iseult Golden and David Horan, hinged upon the things unsaid, different perceptions of meaning, and the weighty connotations lurking below the surface. This is never better showcased than when Mr McCafferty absentmindedly compares Jayden to another boy from a family with a rough reputation. “You think we’re scum like them!” Brian proclaims, vindicated in discovering his suspicions were correct, that to the middle class McCafferty, anybody less educated, less wealthy than him is the same.

This script has layers upon layers, confronting a cycle that multiplies and spreads wide. The accomplished and expressive trio of performers really allow the weighty subtext in the script to sing, and the play manages to be both universal in content while defying class as definition.

I’m just waiting ’til they start teaching Class in classrooms. I’m not worried; I don’t think I’ll be waiting long.

Class, Traverse Theatre, 5-26 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), times vary

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