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A CurtainUp London London Review

. . . but because I'm white and middleclass, it's just fucking assumed that I should have manners. That I should work hard, have aspirations, go to university, spend a gap year building irrigation systems in Mogadishu and know who Judi Dench is. It's so fucking unfair. — Becky
Savannah Gordon-Liburd as Dee and Malachi Kirby as Jason (Photo: Jonathan Keenan)
Out of an entry of 3,000 plays, London drama teacher Vivienne Franzmann's first play Mogadishu, named after the Somalian warzone, but set in an inner city comprehensive school, won the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition in 2008 and gets this production developed at the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester and now showing here in London at the Lyric Hammersmith.

The play opens in the playground where the sound of the school bell is deafening and a geeky Turkish boy Firat (Michael Karim) is being bullied and ends up being punched on the ground by an Afro Caribbean boy Jason (Malachi Kirby). A woman teacher Amanda (Julia Ford) intervenes and is pushed over by Jason in the mle and knocked to the ground. Knowing Jason's troubled history she decides not to complain but Jason, thinking he might be excluded from school, launches a pre-emptive attack on the teacher by claiming that she called him "a black bastard" and punched him. He persuades two girls and some friends to back his story. The weak headmaster Chris (Ian Bartholomew) caves in when Jason's father Ben (Fraser James) demands that Child Protection are notified and Amanda's custody of her teenage daughter Becky (Shannon Tarbet) is questioned as she is accused of physically abusing a minor. Amanda's second husband Peter (Christian Dixon) who happens to Afro-Caribbean is shocked at his wife's treatment by the authorities. The second half brings new developments which I shall not reveal here.

Matthew Dunster's interesting production has the school and home scenes set inside a circular rusting wire fence and at each scene change the pupils gather from outside watching from spaces in the fence ready to smoothly change parts of the set while the fence revolves. It is atmospheric creating a sense of everyone being watched and rhythmic music heightens the drama.

While the performances are tip top and the direction flawless the play itself has one or two questions avoided in order to increase the dramatic tension. For instance, in reality all witnesses would be interviewed individually with their parent and it is unlikely that all would maintain a correct version or if they did, their stories would be so identical as to create a suspicion that they had been rehearsed. I would also expect there to be some parental support and backlash from parents and pupils who know the liberal teacher would not use offensive racist language. However this is an exceptionally skilled and well written first play with plenty of humour and observation of teenagers as well as comments on the political set up in education today. I did like Ms Franzmann's references to current education practices like Academic mentoring for pupils from Black and minority ethnic grouping to help them achieve in school.

From memory, it sounds as if two real life school incidents have been melded to give this play. The dialogue is authentic and the playground talk brims over with streetspeak, init! The schoolchildren characters are influenced by Jason's being top dog and he uses his sex appeal to influence the two girls, his intelligent girlfriend Dee (Savannah Gordon-Liburd) and hanger on Chloe (Tara Hodge). Malachi Kirby gives a wonderful starring performance as the persuasive and lying Jason as does Shannon Tarbet, Amanda's confused but spirited and gutsy daughter who speaks out with common sense and passion. I also liked Fraser James' performance as Jason's father and his character who supports his son in the school setting, but at home, in private closely questions him. Julia Ford's Amanda is swept along by events. The ending feels tragic but takes the play into melodrama. Go and see this promising playwright's first play!

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Written by Vivienne Frantzmann
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Starring: Julia Ford, Fraser James, Malachi Kirby, Shannon Tarbet, Ian Bartholomew, Savannah Gordon-Liburd
With: Hammed Animashaun, Christian Dixon, Tara Hodge, Tendayi Jembere, Michael Karim, Farshid Rokey
Design: Tom Scutt
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy
Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 0871 2211 729
Booking to 2nd April 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th March 2011 performance at the Lyric, Hammersmith, King Street, London W6 0QL (Tube: Hammersmith)

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