Education, Education, Education Provides A Late 90s Nostalgia Buzz
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For anyone enduring the marathon test of stamina that is the dreaded exam season, it might be hard to believe that once schools were not just grade-factories, but places of passion and optimism. May 1997 was a time of collective celebration across the UK. Labour won a landslide general election. Katrina and the Waves won the Eurovision Song Contest. Britain was cool for the first time in decades. A time when you could go to university for just £1000 a year.
Education, Education, Education was the mantra — a campaign promise and then a policy backed up with millions of pounds of funding. The Wardrobe Ensemble — doubling as both the writers and the performers — draw on their own memories of the era for this production. Touchingly each has shared a photo of their younger selves to be part of the backdrop.
The result is part Grange Hill, part panto. The characters are stereotypical: soppy headmaster, inept liberal English teacher, dominatrix Head of Discipline, nice but dim PE teacher and feisty teenage student. The plot is farcical, but entertainingly so, with impeccable timing and precise direction by Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton. The action is punctuated with joyous, hi-energy dance routines. The sight of Tom England as the suited headmaster masterfully breakdancing brings the unique pleasure of seeing an authority figure letting their hair down. On the night we visited the millennials in the audience were jumping with excitement and gave a standing ovation.
Education, Education, Education paints a nostalgic picture. Labour's spending on education resulted in thousands more teachers and better pupil teacher ratios. They invested billions in school buildings — a legacy that can be seen around London today. But the play also acts as a sombre reminder that since then, things have only got worse.
Education, Education, Education, Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1A 2DY, £25-45. 7-29 June
Last Updated 10 June 2019