Review - Battleground of an inner city school is location for new play

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NOT the war-torn city in Somalia, as the title suggests, but the battleground of an inner London comprehensive, is the setting for Vivienne Franzmann’s bold debut Mogadishu at the Royal Exchange, Manchester.

She is evidently writing about what she knows.

A dozen years of drama teaching in the capital have honed her ear for the casually-vicious language of the modern playground, as well as the more formally brutal rigours of an education system that fails staff and pupils when a disciplinary complaint careers out of control.

It reveals a Looking Glass world of procedures, outcomes, and acronyms, all-too familiar to anyone working within the sector.

Franzmann however resists it all becoming some kind of documentary polemic and keeps her drama firmly rooted in the slowly-unravelling lives of its combatants.

Teacher Amanda (Julia Ford) is knocked to the ground by the school’s brooding bully Jason (Malachi Kirby). Her reluctance to report the matter backfires when, instead, he makes a complaint against her. The cruel lie at the play’s heart opens up even wider issues of race, parenting, officialdom, pride, anger and blame.

Yet again theatre can express views that would have a current affairs debate taken off the politically-correct air.

It is all served by exemplary ensemble acting, but Shannon Tarbet – as the teacher’s own daughter – gives a stand-out performance.

Director Matthew Dunster, designer Tom Scutt and fight director Kevin McCurdy fence the action within a circular cage, making the combat even more gladiatorial.

It is a fight to an all-too-gloomy finish, even if Mogadishu slightly pulls its punches by settling for too much symmetry in the back stories of two of its key protagonists.

For all its serious intent however, the play can be darkly amusing, and in its bleedingly-raw use of foul language alone is very much of our time.Maybe one day, soon, it will be regarded as a period piece?

It runs until February 19.