Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Junction 25 are a youth company from Glasgow. Their devised show is about how the education system is processing in batches rather than prising out and nurturing individual skills. In an immersive performance, the audience are asked to take their places behind a desk with an exam sheet in front of them.
Anoesis (psychology) The reception of impressions or sensations (by the brain) without any intellectual understanding. Well, that’s one thing I learnt from this play by Glasgow youth company, Junction 25. This, and quite a lot more besides, including that Junction 25 remain one of the most exciting companies operating out of Scotland these days.
Anoesis takes an immersive look at the reliance of today’s education system on exams. As we come into the hall, our names are taken and name badges given out. Then we’re seated at long benches facing each other with the cast interspersed among us. Exam papers are distributed and instructions given by the invigilator. Now that brought back memories.
There are vignettes from the pupils through which we get to know the characters better. They whisper some of the misdemeanours they’ve got up to in class. Report cards are read out with that ominous ‘could do better’ still on the cards. It shows an education system where you’re part of a batch rather than a person, where people are divided from their peers and struggle to fit in. In a lovely sequence, the same young people read out their own more perceptive reports, and the boy who doesn’t ‘feel comfortable’ behind a desk turns out to be right at home in front of a piano.
Some of the finest moments in Anoesis come from its wonderful choreographed movement sequences. There are thrilling mad dashes along the benches in front of us, that gradually become more and more absurd as people contort themselves to fit the system. Between the benches, the pupils run races up and down the space, with pupils falling, left behind, a very graphic illustration of how the testing nature of exams impacts on pupils.
The pupils perform brilliantly together as an ensemble, and give out an energy and enjoyment that is delightfully direct. The producer and directors of this piece are to be congratulated; what they have done is no small feat. This is a devised piece and they have worked with the young people first to share their feelings about education, and then to find a way of portraying them that makes best use of the performers’ skills. It really is a highly accomplished piece of direction that relies heavily on trust and integrity. Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore are doing something very special with Junction 25 in giving young people a voice – and one that demands to be heard.
We know that exam success doesn’t predict well what happens later in life, and the strange skills required to do well in exams aren’t those needed in today’s working world. What are needed are communication skills, curiosity, problem solving and the ability to collaborate: these are skills that Junction 25 demonstrate in abundance.
On Twitter Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Minister for Culture says that her 16-year-old son said that Anoesis is “spot on challenges and understands pressures on pupils.” Now we need to get Mike Russell, Scotland’s Education Minister along. And from south of the border, perhaps Gove – but no, he’s a lost cause.