S.E.N

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 11 Aug 2015

Goodbye, Mr Chips, and fuck you: your twee world is dead. Children are no longer there to be inspired, or even taught. It's damage control. 

Holly McKinlay’s satire on the education system takes the boiling pot of a contemporary classroom to its extremes. Two students are in an "intervention session" for undisclosed misdemeanours. They don’t get on. But they both smell the blood of their weak, ineffective young teacher.

Taylor (Olivia Duffin) shouts, screams and manipulates like a petulant child, the details of her performance carefully chosen and carefully used: sudden swings in her voice from screeching to whimpering; jiggling leg; permanent pout. She baits the weak teacher (Wesley Lineham) and he falls for it each time. But to be truly brilliant Duffin needs to rein it in slightly.

Aaliyah (Akila Cristiano) is the polar opposite: boredom and resignation suffuse her face. Cristiano plays with her character’s silence, using it to suggest the sense of a character in hiding.  

In McKinlay’s writing are waves that build to intolerable, vertiginous peaks until they break and the secrets spill. It’s Grange Hill writ large, tackling the personal problems of children today, the difficulties posed by multiculturalism for a generation of ignorance that drips down into the idle prejudices of their children. But mostly it's about the impossibility of teaching.

There’s no real sense of direction, a minor structural complaint, and the confessional moments of each character are too expository, but the shifting allegiances between these three is masterfully woven. It’s that best of Fringe discoveries: rare, raw new writing.