At an Edinburgh Fringe chock full of shows making copious reference to Trump and Brexit it is refreshing to see one tackling some forgotten political issues from less recent years. It reminds us that, depending on your point-of-view, we’ve either been here before or ‘things can only get better’. The Wardrobe Ensemble have constructed something of a bittersweet love letter to an era many in the UK idolise with fondness amidst the bleakness of recent years. Moreover, the majority of audience members I’ve spoken to about Education, Education, Education have echoed my sentiments: that its late 90s/early 00s secondary school setting, replete with Cool Britannia fashions and bleep of a Tamagotchi, triggered specific school day reminiscence as the narrative progressed before your very eyes.
The tale itself, which centres around a motley group of teachers, played with an emotional and expressive physical eccentricity reminiscent of Green Wing, was highly compelling and often made it hard to distinguish between pupils and teachers, especially with the six-strong ensemble multi-rolling. It took me twenty minutes, for instance, to realise that the petulant teenager and downtrodden receptionist were played by the same actress (Emily Greenslade), so subtly differentiated and well-realised were her facial expressions and gait in both roles.
“Undoubtedly one of the best shows to come to Edinburgh in recent years”
The play was tightly structured and held together by a quite brilliant turn from the visiting German teacher (James Newton), who served a choral function as the audience’s eyes into this school, providing the viewpoint of an outsider into the various facets of British culture on display. I’d also shower Jesse Meadows with particular praise, delivering perhaps the best individual performance I’ve seen in an ensemble at this year’s Fringe, as the downtrodden teacher who prefers to instruct than dictate and faces opposition and conflict on all sides. She created a truly empathetic portrait of that wonderful teacher we all probably knew and I found her final few moments onstage especially moving.
There were also a number of physical theatre-based sequences to savour, such as a heady, almost psychedelic trip through the school’s various departments, achieved by playing a different songs in each and having the characters leap through two movable doors, which were used to great effect throughout the performance.
As with the best comedies at this year’s Fringe, the play was hysterical and heart-wrenching in equal measure. With each character having their moment to shine, this is an exemplary piece of writing and one which is a must-see for anyone who’s ever had anything to do with education. For everyone else, it has funnier one-liners than most sketch shows, will make any millennial relive their scholastic past and punch you in the gut with a brilliantly executed surreal and unexpected ending. Undoubtedly one of the best shows to come to Edinburgh in recent years.
Pleasance Dome, 2nd – 27th August (not 15th and 25th), 17:20
Image: The Wardrobe Ensemble