After featuring in Falling Pennies’ first ‘On The Night‘ event in April, James Hartnell’s Remedial Remedies now has a short run Upstairs at the Gatehouse as a full-length production. Four schoolboys are on the verge of re-taking their English Literature exam, somewhat begrudgingly for all bar one, but as it starts to dawn on them that this marks their first step into adult life things take on a different complexion.
Kevin, Jack, Ben & Bruce are grouped together because they have ADHD and autism. Over their time in school, their conditions’ incompatibility with the education system has made them feel like they’re stupid – which has disengaged them from learning. But as you see them discuss & analyse topics they’re very familiar with (such as films) you can see that there is intelligence there, they just need extra help in applying it to exam subjects. They question what the point of exams are, and what use they’ll be later in life. It is a fair point – with the sheer amount of assessments, and targets set for teachers, schools have become exam factories rather than helping students to find their independence & really learn things.
What I enjoy so much about Hartnell’s writing is the effortless manner in which he interweaves important social issues with deeply personal stories. Remedial Remedies is not only a coming of age piece, but also casts an eye over the education system & its failings. It’s incredibly funny (the boys’ enactments of parts of the Chronicles of Narnia are real highlights) and, at times, quite emotional.
The relatively spacious surroundings of the theatre allow for an authentic classroom setup: desks, whiteboard, posters, the lot! As such, there isn’t a lot of set movement required, making transitions smooth & keeping up the pace of the show.
Every member of the cast puts in a memorable & engaging performance. They have clearly clicked as a group, as it really does feel like the boys have known each other throughout their school lives – and to prepare for this exam, they have a teacher who is something of an idealist, but obviously an inspiration to them all. Miles Parker shows Mr Winterdon’s enthusiasm & enduring faith that his students can succeed, despite their frequent lack of application. He is the kind of teacher you wish you’d had.
Kevin (Samuel Ranger) really wants to take & pass the exam, which sometimes alienates him from the rest of the group. Ranger is heartbreaking to watch during the show & tell session, when Bruce makes a big mistake in trying to pass off Kevin’s diary as his own. Joseph Cox’s Bruce is a real Jack the Lad, appearing unbothered about the impending exam until the day before – he is hilarious in combination with Arian Nik (Jack), with whom he shares a desk.
As well as this, Nik’s performance is sincere & heartfelt; underneath it all, he’s scared of being a failure in the eyes of his family. Ben (Joshua Akehurst) has no concept of boundaries, which makes for some very funny interactions with his teacher – Akehurst delivers his lines in quite a deadpan fashion, and has a great sense of comic timing. It’s also very moving when he shows Ben’s emotional side, particularly when he remembers his mother.
My verdict? Remedial Remedies is a touching & hilarious piece of new writing that shows the importance of not writing anyone off – catch it while you still can!
Remedial Remedies runs Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 24 July 2016. Tickets are available online or from the box office.