Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review Jam

A troubling school reunion gives reviewer Peter Barker plenty of food for thought on bread-and-butter school issues.  

by Matt Parvin

Class War

Matt Parvin’s impressive debut full length play Jam is an intense two-hander charting a sometimes funny, sometimes ugly classroom relationship which should have ended a decade before on school leaving day. 

Former pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Potter's Harry Melling) unexpectedly and uninvited visits his former teacher Bella Soroush (Jasmine Hyde) in an English rural comprehensive.

He's now a bit of a drifter whose words can't be trusted. He turns up with a rucksack filled with schoolday relics, - plus a bottle of vodka and a baseball bat. All of which Bella goes through methodically, as if it's back to the rebellious student and the schoolmarm emptying his bag.

Kane admits he was a bit of a twat, aggressive and abusing Bella over her Iranian heritage. Nevertheless this seems like a diversion from the deeper reason why Bella is just not acceptable to Kane and he is marked by his schooldays. 

For the past is not another country in Parvin's play - they don't do things differently there. The present repeats the past. These two are locked, however unwillingly, in a toxic relationship.
And the cryptic title Jam? It's not clarified in the play but Parvin's past work includes an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland during his own student days may give a clue.

Lewis Carroll's  White Queen pronounces, "The rule is, jam to-morrow, jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.", later coopted by economist John Maynard Keynes and various politicians of all hues.
Melling is immensely credible as West Country misfit Kane who is just not that clever. His explosions of rage are visceral, if sometimes with a little too much volume for such a small performance space.

The presence of Hyde's Bella pays dividends later on in the play when her frailties and flaws are exposed.

Her self-control and her controlling personality are brought into context as the script and Hyde's performance reveal the rawness of her emotions and her capability for violence.

An ingenious scaffold climbing frame design from Emma Bailey splits the performing space in two cleverly suggesting a room and a playground.  Alexandra Faye Braithwaite's soundscape subtly
mingles the murmurs of an outside world with the obligatory ringing of school bells.

Playwright Parvin and director Tommo Fowler, could afforded to cut at least quarter of an hour from the running time of 95 minutes, tightening the script and ratcheting up the tension.

Even so, the writer proves adept at building and then releasing tension. Yet Jam has a conclusion that is anything but a release of suspense but a surprising and skilful collapse into exhaustion. It's a green light for a thought-provoking classroom drama.

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