I have to say, given my general dislike of child performers, God Bless the Child at the Royal Court seemed like a show custom designed to send me screaming out of the theater. And then as I walked into the Jerwood Upstairs, and lo and behold, I was walking into a primary school classroom, going down the hall past the low-hanging coathooks and lockers, and then sitting on plastic chairs on the edge of a room with shortened tables (and lilypads and toadstools) in the center, and paper maché mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and posters covered with class projects. And then the actors marched on stage and suddenly the weird comments in the program (“Thank you Vicki Featherstone for never being tempted to use puppets”) made sense – because there were, what, nine kids of about 8 years on stage? The horror! The horror!
The story was actually not only new but quite modern in its concerns and electrically focused on modern politics – to be honest, blazing quite confidently into Shavian territory but with nearly no need to lecture us as the expense of entertainment (unlike some shows I could mention). Yet even without the politics the premise is interesting: a young girl decides that the teaching program she’s being a subject of/subjected to is ridiculous, and begins to protest against its methods in ways that underline its ineffectiveness. The heat is turned on when it’s revealed to us by Headmistress (aka school principal for us Americaners) Ms Evitt (Nikki Amuka Bird) that she’s putting the squeeze on the class’s teacher Ms Newsome (Ony Uhiara) to make it work or else … or else the school will continue to struggle financially. So despite us sympathizing with Louis (Nancy Allsop)’s campaign of undermining this corporate sponsored pap, we can’t help but also feel that the adults are trying to make it work out of generally positive concern for the school.
However, as the play carries on, while Louis (now styled King Louis) continues her reign in increasingly mad fashion, we get the addition of both the not very nice creator of the Badger Does Best system, Sali Rayner (Amanda Abbington, chilling), and some frightening realizations about just why having Badger teaching the kids might not be a good idea. In fact, by the time the denoument rolled around, between the increasing hysteria of Sali and The King, I was beginning to think we were looking at a very grim play indeed. That’s some of the fun of seeing a new show – you never know what to expect. And for this show, I think you can take my word that it’s just a really great ride and go for it.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 24, 2014. It continues through December 20th.)