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A CurtainUp London London Review
God Bless the Child

"Badger Do Best wants to keep us small and stop us asking questions. He tells us we're fourth set from the top when we're really second from the bottom." — Abdul
God Bless the Child
Cast in God Bless the Child (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
As a part of the Revolutions season Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone directs Molly Davies' play God Bless the Child about the performance pressures on primary education. The small space of the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs has been converted into a bright and colourful classroom with the children's work decorating the walls. The audience are seated on utilitarian school chairs on three sides of the room like those observing a class.

At the far end is a large poster featuring a stuffed badger, pictures of his woodland friends and the words "Badger Do Best". Foam lily pads are arranged on the floor for the children to sit round and listen to their teacher and the toadstools at the far end of the room are for "thinking"in silence, maybe the equivalent of the naughty step. Everything in the classroom is prescribed by the Badger scheme. On either side hang a 3D storm cloud and a 3D sun with slots for the children's names for them to express their mood. They also wear yellow smiley face cardboard circles which they can turn to blue sad face.

We learn through conversations that "Badger Do Best"is a curriculum system produced and sold by Sali Rayner (a splendid performance from Amanda Abbington) to motivate and encourage positive learning outcomes and to deliver social control in the classroom. Except that it appears that the children aren't learning very much other than how to conform until Louie (Bobby Smalldridge) becomes a rebel and questions the authority of the adults.

The school is under pressure to attract funding for a new extension and the head teacher Ms Evitt (Nikki Amuka Bird) is hoping that Class 4N's successful pilot will gain Sali Rayner's backing for adoption of the "Badger Do Best" teaching method and the crucial funding. 4N's class teacher, Ms Newsome (Ony Uhara) fears that the scheme isn't working but the school management don't listen.

Julie Hesmondhaigh plays Mrs Bradley, the older teaching assistant who has to run the wet playtime dinner hours. The pressure increases on Ms Newsome as the children start reacting badly to the "Badger Do Best" song, she has to go on sick leave.

I really enjoyed the performance of Amanda Abbington as the uber professional Sali Rayner, brought in to work with the class and particularly with chief rebel Louie. We know that Sali Rayner's motivation is the lucrative sales of her system if "Badger Do Best" passes muster. However the children may prefer the badger to be culled.

The child actors do very well. Almost all have previous stage experience and the night I saw, Louie was played by the excellent Bobby Smalldridge. On alternate nights Louie will be played by a girl.

God Bless the Child promotes discussion about government imposed priorities on education but classroom rebellion can only be a metaphor not a solution.

Warning: soft toys may be harmed in this production!

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God Bless the Child
Written by Molly Davies
Directed by Vicky Featherstone

Starring: Nikki Amuka Bird, Julie Hesmondhaigh, Ony Uhlara, Amanda Abbington
With: Bobby Smalldridge, Lizzie Wells, Cedric Essumang, Grace Taylor, Colby Mulgrew, Beatrice Playfoot-Orme, Lahaina Asumang
Designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Composer and Sound Design: Mark Melville
Movement: Imogen Knight
Running time: One hours 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office 020 7565 5000
Booking to 20th December 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th November 2014 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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