Edinburgh Fringe 2016
One man with a single chair talks about his experiences from an abusive father to an abusive school system that eventually made him conform to their ways. This is an exploration more than an expose of a system of cruelty based in theories of the 19th century that are still available in the 21st century making this a timeless, yet historical slice of a Boarding school in Sweden that has cousins, neighbours and close relatives throughout the world.
Jesper Arin starts from the back of the audience and then comes down amongst us to tell of the upbringing of Jan Guillou. Telling a true story we hear of the brutality at home, its continued use at school before he is sent to a boarding school where peer education is used to continue to brutalise children. Befriending Pierre, his new roommate they begin resistance to the methods before Pierre is beaten to within an inch of his life and Jan gives it up. In between we see how the resistance was never futile but always doomed.
It is a book, already a film but is it a stage play? This is a pertinent thought as this one man play needs to keep us in his company for more than an hour with unrelenting brutality his subject matter. The answer is yes it is. The play brings something new to it all and the fact that it is sold out tells me that I am not alone in thinking that. There are plenty alongside me who agree.
Arin is an engaging presence and part of the impressive nature of the piece is the fact that a very difficult subject matter which is joined by a very difficult story is actually told with charm and intrigue. Not an easy combination considering this is about the brutality of what happens in education.
There is clearly no need for any form of set and costumes are not necessary as we get from the brutal nature of being beaten at home, how to run various rackets at school by bullying and intimidation before refusing the discipline at school and fighting the violence of peer education at the boarding school. This may sound like a misery memoir but what shine through is the relationship with Pierre and their adherence to some of the teachings of Gandhi. It is the indomitability of the human spirt which drives the drama. Although compliance is found eventually it only comes because the physical can no longer keep up against the relentless injustice that the emotional can withstand.
It’s an hour and ten minutes that, as an educator, reminds me why we have moved so far away from treating children as objects. It reminds me why teaching is a privilege and a skill which discipline does not demand but is an adjunct to respect that should be shown to all.