Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

An Alternative Provision School need not be a euphemism. ‘At best it’s a family,’ says Marika Mckennell, the writer of E8. Her play might help you agree. It will certainly get you halfway there.

Polly, Acting Headteacher, reckons that pupils need to ‘feel safe enough to kick off’, which might explain why she’s leaving the job. It’s a Friday afternoon, schools are over for the day, but Bailey, fifteen, does not want to go home and Ryan drops by, too late for lessons, but just to show his face. He doesn’t talk easily. Both have been excluded from mainstream education because of persistent bad behaviour. Mo is the fourth character. Like Polly he has a staff lanyard but his ID tag is tucked into his trackie bottoms. Mo is cool; an expert youth worker first, teacher second maybe.

E8’s well-founded script has all of Mckennell’s teaching experience behind it. Bailey (Alice Vilanculo) and Ryan (Harry McMullen) sound like Hackney kids and act like it too. Bailey’s enjoyable rap to Ryan’s beats is the real deal. Mo (Parys Jordan) is Hackney-born and has their language and their slang. Polly (Tina Chiang) knows how to talk to her ‘difficult’ pupils but there’s more negotiation here than genuine familiarity. She’s had to work hard to earn their trust and even then it can all go very wrong very quickly. Take a missing charger for the laptop, for instance.

In educational terms there is a clear and valid agenda. It is less evident in Ryan and Bailey’s chaotic and marginal lives, although these are credible and disturbing, but more in Polly’s situation. She has been so worn down by under-funding that the resilience has gone and the optimism too. The shift from convincing dialogue to convinced social commentary is probably inevitable but it is hard not to see the research paper and the editorial.

It is a cogent piece with strong and bright acting and its subject is certainly not just the property of an inner London postcode.