It has long been understood that plays set at schools say something about the state of the nation. After all, this is where for many children they are first introduced to ‘society’ and its efforts to imparts its values and teachings. The UK today is obviously not what it was like 50 years ago, but even with the former groundbreaking film To Sir With Love reflecting the nascent multicultural Britain, the behaviour of pupils then appears ‘twee’ compared to the extremities that some teachers face today. The one thing that still holds true is that the hostile behaviour is learnt – from the home and from society at large. Directed by Tommo Fowler, Matt Parvin’s play Jam addresses these issues and the vulnerability on teachers, on the defensive backfoot…
One evening, Bella Souroush (Jasmine Hyde) is petrified by the arrival of former pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling) at her school. After her initial fright, Bella is dismissive of Kane’s alleged reasons for visiting – to make amends for past behaviour… and because he only has six months to live.
As details about Kane and his classmates are divulged, we begin to understand why Bella is horrified at the prospect of this person in her life again. Asides from the relentless disruption to her classes, Bella has endured direct, disparaging comments about her appearence and her ethnicity. This is all led to a hellacious showdown and some of her pupils invading her home. Ten years down the line, Bella has put the past behind her and works in another school. Now her serenity comes crashing down to earth, with Kane’s presence a regression to ‘the bad old days’ and everything she’s worked for since potentially up in flames.
While Kane’s previous actions are undeniably reprehensible, the play does subtly suggest through his accusations that Bella’s attitude at times spurred the hostility and in turn challenging the audience’s own prejudices.
Hyde delivers an incendiary performance as Bella, the audience with her every step of her emotional journey (not unlike the stages of grief) as her ‘cooler head’ wrestles with her ‘fight-or-flight’ instincts. Even when she’s silent, her face and body language screams at her inner pain. Melling’s performance isn’t so intense, but then his character is to trying to allay Bella’s fears and keep her there – until he can talk about what’s really on his mind. His steadfast, assauging demeanour suggests maybe he has ‘turned a corner’. After all he is 23 now, not a delinquent teenager…
The set is mostly comprised of a scaffolding-esque climbing frame, such as one found in a school gym. The ramp that sits below it allows each person to physically tower over the other, visually suggesting who has the real ‘power’ in a given moment.
Jam is at its best when new ‘evidence’ forces the audience to look at things in a different and light and re-evaluate its own feelings. There are plenty of ‘heart-in-mouth’ moments – some of which makes for very uncomfortable viewing. The fact that Jam is also performed ‘in the round’ in such an intimate space lends a greater impact to the performance.
Jam certainly won’t make people rush out to join the teaching profession, but it does highlight how important those on the frontline are, who often through circumstances are called upon to be de facto social workers and parents to those who have slipped through the cracks of society. But teachers are only human and there’s only so much they can do and tolerate without support from the powers-that-be.
© Michael Davis 2017
Jam runs at the Finborough Theatre 17th June 2017.
JAM POST-SHOW DISCUSSIONS
Wednesday 31 May
Discussion with Matt Parvin and Tommo Fowler of the issues surrounding the play.
Wednesday 7 June
Q&A with Matt Parvin, Tommo Fowler and members of the cast.