King's Theatre, Edinburgh
At first glance, the well-choreographed burst of jumping, jiving life from the young cast of this new stage version of E.R. Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about his experiences as a black teacher in a run-down east end London school looks like a piece of all-singing, all-dancing youth theatre. For all their brash bravura, there's something initially one-dimensional about the larger than life cockney urchins that doesn't always ring true in Mark Babych's production of Ayub Khan Din's new adaptation of Braithwaite's book for this Touring Consortium and Royal and Derngate Northampton co-production. If this rubs off on the grown-ups in the play, the over-riding lightness gradually matures into something with depth as well as warmth.
Ansu Kabia plays Ricky, an ambitious and educated Guyanese ex-pat who takes up teaching as a last resort in a post Second World War London riddled with prejudice. The school he ends up in is rough, but, with Matthew Kelly's idealistic headmaster Florian in charge, it is also progressive. Ricky's teenage charges take full advantage of this, as they throw his high-brow armoury of Chopin, Keats and Kipling back in his face. As Ricky squares up to institutional racism in the staff-room as much as the class-room, both he and his students learn lessons they'll never forget.
Babych's production is full of heart, with each scene punctuated by break-time dance routines performed by the cast, Yet, for all it's broad brush-strokes, it says something meaningful about the right of education for all which Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove could learn much from. When Florian declares the system to be broken and calls for revolution, it could be today he's talking about.
The Herald, October 31st