Monday, 20 April 2015

Theatre review: A Level Playing Field at Jermyn Street Theatre



©Photo Chris Coulson

I had the pleasure of watching Jonathan Lewis' excellent Our Boys in the West End last year and so was keen to check out the latest play by his hand. A Level Playing Field is part of his Education, Education, Education trilogy, which provides an insight into the educational system. Where the first play is told from the students' perspective, the other two will shine a light on schooling through the eyes of the parents and teachers. It's a fascinating concept and if either of the other plays are half as provocative as A Level Playing Field, we'll be in for a treat.

When the audience first meets the cast of characters within A Level Playing Field, the students are entering the isolation room between tests; they have one final exam to go before freedom awaits them. Geared up for the last round of revisions, distraction presents itself in the form of Nicholas Cage, as one of the students has 'Caged' the room, and the unexpected lack of adult supervision. Taking A-levels is a stressful period in a teenager's life at the best of times, but with the added pressure in private schools to get those coveted A-stars and continue on a path that has been carefully planned their entire lives it isn't surprising that for some of these young people it becomes too much in that isolation room – especially when they start to ponder, what is it all for anyway?

A Level Playing Field dissects this question within the educational system and exposes the flaws through its highly intellectual young characters. Yet for all the issues it tackles and the tension that carefully builds throughout, which comes to an explosive finish in the second half, there were just as many genuinely funny moments that added a touch of lightheartedness. This ensured that the play never became tedious nor did the clear passion for the message preach what we, as a collective, should be thinking about the state of education in today's society. Instead it was a highly compelling piece of theatre that not only entertains but also manages to make its audience think.

While the writing was snappy and the story sizzles with anticipation, the most exciting part of this play was its predominantly teenage cast and their lack of a professional acting background. The characters on stage felt unbelievably authentic, something that would've been hard to emulate by people just acting the parts. Instead they're portrayed by young adults who have undoubtedly gone through that stressful part in their lives only recently themselves and their affinity for the drama and the pressure on an impressionable young mind truly showed.

A Level Playing Field may have an initial focus on the flaws within the educational system, most interestingly the story was a staging of the complex teenage mind; highly dramatic, self-centred and over the top at times, yet amid the noise and confusion of growing up there's a fascinating and powerful message – and it is one that is worth listening to. 




A Level Playing Field is running at Jermyn Street Theatre until 9 May 2015. Buy tickets here.

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