There is no doubting the timeliness of Marika Mckennell’s new play E8. As education budgets are slashed, local authorities consulted inadequately on how budget cuts should be implemented so the excluded sink even further through the cracks of community and society.
E8 features a cast of four. On a Friday afternoon at a Pupil Referral Unit. Polly, the headteacher, is packing her things for the last time. Leaving to pursue a PhD. Tying up loose ends, which includes securing a referral into care for one of her students, Bailey.
The audience are introduced quickly to the issues of boundaries and procedures within this PRU. Children stay behind after school, for no reason but it would seem that there is no place safer to go.
In E8 it is Marika Mckennel’s unpicking of the situations and motivations which shine through. Of professionals who never intended a career working in a PRU, of children who have no place better to be, of a system which can’t provide children with a safer environment to exist.
Whilst some of the interaction could be strengthened- relationships never feeling fully enough explored to be entirely convincing, of histories being unpicked for the first time without an apparent bond- there are performances which amaze.
As Bailey, Alice Valianculo creates a compelling and convincing character. Frustrated, complex, confused, distressed seem to describe the character created but do no justice to the performance. Alice Valianculo allows Bailey to breathe contempt for the system whilst underpinning enough vulnerability for the failings of the system to be appreciated and inhaled.
Whilst E8 is about the challenges surrounding alternative education provision, Ria Parry deftly translates intervals of humour to ensure a control of the production is maintained. Because this is a piece with pinchpoints of the violent reality surrounding of society.
Whilst Alice Valianculo is able to explore fully the character of Bailey, in Harry McMullen’s Ryan the same is not afforded. Maybe this creates the balance to the piece, Ryan is successfully used as the catalyst of humour and angst.
Completing the story, Bailey is unable to access a referral. Having made the decision to opt for care rather than remain with a family member. The ability for decisions to be made through paper pushing.
E8 successfully brings a hidden part of our education system to light. Demonstrating the ability to educate is never determined by the classroom. Chaotic home lives, peer groups and friendship circles being far more responsible for a child’s ability to benefit from an education.
E8 is at the Pleasance Dome as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You can see the production at 16.10 until Sunday 25th August.
Disclosure: This review is part of media accreditation for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through the Network of Independent Critics. All views and opinions contained are my own.