With a sold-out run at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and a Fringe First award under its belt, Irish play Class arrives at the Bush Theatre and lives up to expectations. A sharp three-hander, Class tells the story of a parent-teacher meeting where tensions run high, when a well-meaning teacher must break the news of one of his students’ “learning difference” to his understandably defensive parents. The unspoken class divide between the parents and teacher becomes very spoken, and as tensions escalate, the teacher’s mild-mannered demeanour begins to slip, and a “learning difference” gives way to a “learning disability” and eventually, “delinquency”.
Written by Iseult Golden and David Horan, who also ably direct, Class manages the difficult feat of charting an escalating argument based around one theme without ever feeling inorganic. Buoyed along by dynamic performances from Stephen Jones as Brian and Sarah Morris as Donna, who both bear the scars of being treated like second-class citizens from their time in school and are reluctant to refer their son to an ‘educational psychologist’ if it means passing on the same fate to him.
In a clever touch that elevates the play, Jones and Morris also switch between playing Brian and Donna to playing their son Jayden as well as Kaylie, a classmate of his, for brief scenes with the same teacher, Mr McCafferty (Will O’Connell). Adults playing children is always a gamble, but it’s one that pays off here, with both actors achieving an impressive physicality and transformation that nails the awkward and earnest frustrations of childhood.
Class makes its arguments cleanly and concisely while leaving room for well-judged humour. There are moments when it falters – an exuberant dance break feels too calculatedly ‘feel-good’, and a late-game plot development feels like a shock that’s mainly there because the play is coming to an end, but these are minor quibbles. A strong offering, Class is highly recommended viewing.