London Bubble Theatre’s latest intergenerational community project is a thoroughly charming and compelling piece about the experience of primary school. Performed in a school hall by amateurs of all ages and backgrounds (though underpinned by some highly-skilled professionals) Primary gripped the audience from the start through its unrelenting truthfulness.
That‘s not to say it was grim or depressing. In fact, apart from a short segment on the imbecility of constant testing and teaching to those tests, it was almost entirely uplifting. Time and again both “pupils” and “staff” described just what had made their time in primary school so important and rewarding. Whether the stories were of fun and warmth, or of problems – loneliness, loss, emotional deprivation – what came through most strongly was what a strong school and caring staff can offer children even with the most difficult home lives.
A series of short acted scenes and pieces delivered direct to the audience enabled Primary to cover a huge range of experiences in just an hour. It is greatly to the actors’ credit that it was impossible to tell when the anecdotes on stage actually belonged to those telling them, or whether they originated in the hundreds of conversations and recordings up and down the country over the past year as the project was assembled. Simple but very effective music and songs helped punctuate the action and pull everything together.
There can surely have been no-one in the audience who did not recognise elements of their own experience of primary school up on stage. The waystations on the route into the auditorium at the beginning of the evening helped enormously: the audience were offered sweets at the “tuck shop”; given the chance to scrawl a favourite teacher’s name on a blackboard (Mrs Peglar, of course); and reminded of the intricacies of Cat’s Cradle. The number of enthusiastic non-British accents amongst both the stewards and cast suggest that the years in primary education may be a truly international experience, before children begin to be taught more about differences than similarities.
Politicians are usually more interested in reinventing the past than remembering the reality. IN an ideal world every new Secretary of State for Education should watch a video of Primary as part of their induction. Perhaps then new policies would be grounded in the reality of how
important it is for young children to have a chance to play, and fight, and make up, and push boundaries; and how little the facts and grammar they might pick up in the process really matter.