Words by Andrea Drobna
Performed on an intimate stage in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, Class was set in a singular primary school classroom, all the scenes carried out by only three actors. With a surprising mix of both flashforward and flashback scenes throughout the performance, the show tackled issues faced by both parents and their children growing up in troubled families living in a poor area of Dublin. For an hour and a half, the show had my full attention, showcasing a performance that should not be missed.
The show started off with Brian (Stephen Jones) arriving early to Mr. McCafferty’s (Will O’Connell) classroom for a parent-teacher meeting, nervously making small talk while waiting for his ex-wife Donna (Sarah Morris) to arrive. When Donna finally shows, the two are a nervous wreck, unsure of how to communicate properly with Mr. McCafferty. They’re initially confused by some of the language he uses, with Donna instinctively raising her hand when waiting to answer questions that Mr. McCafferty has about their son Jayden. The two go back and forth with Mr. McCafferty, discussing the best possible way to tackle Jayden’s newfound learning disability.
About 20 minutes in the lights started flickering, and the once-parents and teacher at a parent/teacher conference transformed into a an after-school homework club comprised of Jayden and Kylie, two students who are both falling behind on their work in class. Jones and Morris brilliantly transition from playing distressed parents to young schoolkids multiple times throughout the play, showing the audiences that the behaviors of the children are not too far off from the parents. O’Connell’s character is also developed throughout the transitions, showing that he is a kind and caring teacher who wants what’s best for the children in the scenes with Jayden and Kylie, yet often coming off pretentious and a bit condescending towards Brian and Donna when they seem confused by some of his terminology. Overall, the show exhibits brilliant character development as the audience becomes more familiar with all the characters.
One of the things that really stood out to me was how the show portrayed the effects that a troubled home life can have on a child’s education, with neither the parents nor the children knowing how to deal with many of the changes taking place. In the scenes during the parent/teacher conference, Brian begs Donna to give their marriage another try, hoping to sort things out both between them and for Jayden. As Mr. McCafferty tries to focus on talking about their son, they can’t help but fight and ignore his comments. The children are also reluctant to focus on their schoolwork during the homework club, sharing the troubles they experience at home instead. Towards the end of the play Kylie opens up to Mr. McCafferty and shares that she won’t be able to do her schoolwork anymore when she moves away from her nan’s as her mother can’t read or write properly. As the play finishes off and it seems like no one wins, and a shocking ending leaves the audiences heartbroken and unaware of who to feel sorrier for.
Overall, I think that the play was both brilliantly produced and written, showcasing both the actors’ talent and how a small cast can make the most use out of a limited stage. The play tackled issues such as divorce, learning disabilities, and disparities in class and privilege, highlighting how some feel discouraged by a system that they know has let them down. The whole audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance as well, with many contributing quite large donations at the end of the show, as the showing was a ‘pay as you can’ event. Once again, I could not recommend the play enough, and I suggest that everyone go see it if they have the chance.