John Donnelly’s The Knowledge

It’s back to school at the Bush where the small stage is wrapped round in blackboards for John Donnelly’s excellent new play, the first in its Schools Season.

The chalked on walls are as bleak and unwelcoming as the demountable outdoor classroom where newly qualified teacher Zoe has her work cut out dealing with a multiracial Citizenship class of four.

The only reason these fifteen year olds haven’t been excluded from their Essex school is statistical – it just wouldn’t look good on the OFSTED inspection report.

Daniel is black, has a troubled family background but writes poetry. Sal, who’s Asian, intends to remain a virgin until she’s married, whilst Karris only has one subject on her timetable – sex, and Mickey goes out of his way to make trouble every time he opens his mouth. 

The teachers aren’t much better. Andrew Woodall’s Harry (the cynical fifty something headmaster) has one eye on his imminent retirement, and Zoe’s mentor, good-looking science teacher Maz, is the local lothario.

But staff and pupils are bound together until the teenagers reach school-leaving age – and Joanne Froggatt’s vulnerable Zoe is still being assessed.

Charlotte Gwinner’s production zaps along at a cracking rate and sizzles with the kind of dialogue which would horrify the Education Secretary (including Zoe’s exasperated instruction to Mickey to “put the condom on the prosthetic penis or get out.”) but makes for great entertainment.

Joe Cole, Kerron Darby, Holli Dempsey and Mandeep Dhillon impress as the pupils for whom education seems a pointless exercise, and Donnelly’s serious observations about the state of the education system and the problems of being a teacher hit home hard in an irresistibly convincing way.


Bush Theatre, Shepherds Bush Green
W12 8QD
Shepherds Bush tube
020 8743 5050
Till February 19

– Louise Kingsley