The play ‘Class’ by Iseult Golden and David Horan was first performed in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght as part of the 2017 Dublin Theatre Festival. In early 2018 it transferred to the Peacock in Abbey for a further run. I had wanted to see it here but it was fully sold out. Later that year it wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Festival. Roll on to 2019, and the play toured to Cardiff and London, before touring Ireland for the month of November. In other words it’s a smash hit. Last night was the final night of this incarnation of the work, back where is all began at the Civic in Tallaght. I had a ticket. My anticipation was high.
The play is about a separated young couple Brian (played by Stephen Jones) and Donna (Sarah Morris) who have been called in by their son Jayden’s teacher Mr. McCafferty (Will O’Connell) to discuss Jayden’s problems at school – he has fallen behind in his reading and writing. The couple are former pupils of the school in a working class Dublin neighbourhood. It evokes unpleasant memories for them both. Meanwhile their personal relationship is not in the healthiest of places.
Mr. O’Connell is a dedicated teacher who takes an interest in his pupils’ welfare. The reality is however that he hails from a wealthier, middle class background than Jayden and his parents – a fact of which they are very well aware. He suggests that Jayden attend an educational psychologist to help with his difficulties (or ‘differences’ as he euphemistically calls them). This does not sit well with Brian and Donna, who are only too well aware of how this might make their son a target. They don’t want Jayden to be left behind, but they cannot reconcile their own troubled experience at school with the big worded niceties being uttered by the teacher. It seems like he is patronising them.
This clash between the parents and the teacher; and between the parents themselves, are the drivers of this play. All three characters presumably want what is best for Jayden. All are hampered. Stephen is handicapped by his sense of inadequacy, and his jealous rage that his ex-wife seems to want to move on with her life without him. Donna struggles with her own limitations in helping her son, having fallen through the cracks of the education system. The teacher is prejudiced by his unconscious snobbery.
The play moves seamlessly between the parent-teacher meeting involving the three adults; and an after school homework club where Mr. McCafferty helps Jayden and Kaylie (played again by Jones and Morris) with their literacy.
It’s a remarkable play – incredibly funny, but at the same time deals with the awkward realities about how social and economic class discriminates between people in terms of education. Does Brian’s impotent rage mean he will unwittingly harm his son? Will the failure of the education system in regard to Donna repeat with her son? The three actors are all fantastic – portraying complex and very real characters. The shock ending is quite effective, although probably unnecessary based on the sheer class of the script and performances that preceded it.
I’m not sure whether there will be another production of this show next year – if there is, then I’d encourage you to beg, steal or borrow to see it. Highly recommended.