John Donnelly’s ‘The Knowledge’ does for cunnilingus and citizenship classes what ‘The History Boys’ did for poetry and the blowjob. It’s set at the sharp end of the teaching mission, in an Essex comp, where NQT Zoe (Joanne Froggatt, petite and superb) is struggling to control a class of four 15 year olds, who would have been kicked out had Ofsted not told the ‘acting shithead’ to reduce the exclusion rate.
All boundaries get tested to destruction in Donnelly’s comedy, where Zoe’s skirt-chasing mentor Maz (Christopher Simpson, excellent) pulls birds with a running joke about getting a hard-on teaching PE and disastrous lessons play simultaneously with the teachers’ pissed post-school analysis of them.
The truculent, foul-mouthed exhibitionist banter flies off the stage – and that’s not just the grown-ups. Wised up, ignorant, hostile and neglected, the four kids are hilarious, but every joke has a razor edge. Motormouth bully Mickey (Joe Cole) and jailbait Karris (Holli Dempsey), veteran of a thousand blowjobs but a virgin when it comes to her own sexual pleasure, show how much more care these kids need than any teacher can give.
Charlotte Gwinner’s poignantly funny in-the-round production shows you, from every angle, how good intentions, puberty, aggro and booze make an emotional timebomb. Bad things happen but life goes on, with a darker sense of humour: unlike some grittier-than-thou social issue writing, ‘The Knowledge’ refuses to make a crisis out of a drama and is consequently refreshingly subtle and real.