Deceptively bittersweet comedy about a struggling comp at the dawn of the New Labour era
Imagine 'Teachers' with teeth and you're somewhere in the ballpark of this slick but fiery new comedy from The Wardrobe Ensemble. Set in a struggling British comprehensive in 1997, 'Education, Education, Education' combines cartoonish staffroom hijinks and occasionally gratuitous period nostalgia (a Tamagotchi features prominently) with a wistful remembrance of the euphoria of that year's Labour landslide and a bitter awareness that two decades after Tony Blair pumped billions into secondary education, the sector would be on its knees.
Our narrator is Tobias (James Newton), a deadpan, Britpop-loving German language assistant whose first day working at the school is May 2, 1997 – the morning after Tony Blair’s New Labour eviscerated John Major’s dysfunctional Conservatives. Though the staff are advised by their terminally idealistic headmaster Huw (Tom England) that they must be politically neutral in front of their pupils, they are, of course, delighted – convinced, as they say, that things can only get better for their crumbling school.
In the short term, though, nothing can save the fractious crew of educators from their immediate fate: it is the last day of school for their year 11s before they go on study leave, and they’re intent on trashing the place. Only the borderline psychopathic ‘head of discipline’ Louise (a scene-stealing Kerry Lovell) can stand up to the unruly mob… but it’s not nearly enough.
The laughs in the company-devised piece are a little on the broad side and style-wise there really are so many similarities to ‘Teachers’ – the lightly surreal Andrew Lincoln-starring ’00s comedy-drama – that it virtually amounts to the same general idea. But it’s the lines the show draws between then and now that elevate it into something special. Tobias is talking to us from the present, and it’s the wistful way he explains in a couple of quiet, devastating, clinical asides how the hope of this moment was utterly expended that really gets you. I was in the GCSE year depicted in the show, and the nostalgia ‘Education, Education, Education’ mines feels very bittersweet now.