Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Peter Campling pulls no punches in his new play exposing critical fissures in the education system of England and Wales.
We’re at Ardley Green Community School, somewhere in the heart of an area with enough social and economic challenges without having those of an increasingly results driven education system layered on top. But rules are rules – the system exists to be complied with. Falling foul of an inspection will see budgets fall and heads roll.
Peter Campling’s comic yet moving tale, The Inspectors Call, doesn’t pull any punches and it’s quite clear what the author thinks of the education system in England and Wales. Headmaster George Smith (“call me George, everyone does”) is the focus for Campling’s ire with the way the system has become over-focused on the quantitative (and, at times, pretty meaningless grade averages) to the detriment of providing an environment in which children can learn about themselves, what they excel at and what it takes to make a contribution to our increasingly fragmented society.
And Joe Cushley as Smith is just the actor to bring Campling’s words to life. Corpulent and charismatic, he strides like a colossus around the small Spotlite’s stage, his resonant, richly rounded voice bearing an uncanny resemblance to that of David Jason’s character in Inspector Frost, a popular TV series from the 1990’s. Passionate about the kids over whose lives he could have so much influence, he can see the good in everyone no matter how deep-seated their academic limitations may be. But in this state controlled, results orientated regime Smith’s holistic approach to his charges is clearly anachronistic and the day of the dreaded inspection marks the beginning of his end.
In addition to this bravura performance from Cushley, credit must go to Tamara Camacho, Simi Egbejuni David and Kathryn Hamilton-Hall as the hard-working trio of actors who played a variety of roles including those of teachers, local authority officials, pupils and parents. If Princess McDonnough’s Inspector came across as rather too stereotypical and almost a caricature, this was more due to the words she was working with than they manner in which they were delivered. Overall, this talented quintet delivered the message admirably and cleverly drew out the undercurrent of dark humour running throughout this eighty minute piece.
Where the wheels nearly came off the bus, however, was on the relatively simple issue of sound. Sound effects in plays need to support the action on stage, not swamp it or distract and least of all become an irritant as was too often the case here. The volume drowned bits of dialogue and there were seemingly unending repeats of the same few bars of Handel’s Gloriah – more imagination and subtle deployment would have provided better support.
But the words and the acting overcame all that and we were sent out into the night to muse on just how frustrating life can become in any over-regulated environment, none arguably more important than that of education. Well worth a look in these, the dying embers of the 2016 Fringe.