REVIEW: Breathtaking 'Boy at the Back of the Class' at Malvern Theatres brings tears of joy and sadnes - The Malvern Observer

REVIEW: Breathtaking 'Boy at the Back of the Class' at Malvern Theatres brings tears of joy and sadnes

Malvern Editorial 20th Mar, 2024 Updated: 20th Mar, 2024   0

‘THE BOY at the Back of the Class’ which opened last night at Malvern is a faithful adaptation for the stage by Nick Ahad of Onjali Q.

Raúf’s award-winning children’s novel. It is, I suggest, a play that all Year 5 and Year 6 students should have the opportunity to experience.

There is an empty chair at the back of an English school classroom – life changes for the young students when it is given to a new boy -Ahmet – who is a nine-year-old traumatized refugee from war torn Syria. He only speaks Kurdish, which makes any integration with the rest of the class very difficult, so he remains silent. Inevitably Ahmet is bullied by some, not necessarily because he is a refugee but because he is different and therefore a target.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

Thankfully, there is a gang of four chums who make it their mission firstly to befriend him. which happens through the magic of kicking a football and then later, when they discover his sister died in the sea and he has no idea where his parents are or indeed if they are still alive, they set out to find them.

That, in a nutshell is the bones behind the plot and the flesh on the bones involves children playing hookey to go to London and give the Queen (the book was written whilst Queen Elizabeth II was still on the throne) a letter asking her to to find them.

The beauty of this simple tale is that it succeeds on so many levels. It is a morality play of how easy it is to be blind to the suffering of others – it’s a shocking indictment of our war torn world and it’s a ripping yarn that brings tears of sadness and joy in equal dollops.




Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

Monique Touko directs with care and passion and applies it at times with the subtlety of a fine art sable but is not afraid to use a crude paste brush when it needs it. Touko tugs all the right strings at all the right moments.

Lily Arnold gives us a simple but practical set which comprises the back wall of the school gymnasium – this in turn becomes anything it needs to be from classrooms to homes, from street markets to the gates of Buckingham Palace.


It has hoops and frames from which the energetic class swing, climb and cavort. There is also an outer, light box frame, which changes colour and mood on the journey.

The lighting design by Ryan Day is equally, simple and effective, with snap black outs and mood changes.

Alexa – who acts as our narrator until Ahmet finds his voice – is played engagingly by Sasha Desouza-Willock. She brings a modern day Famous Five feel to the party, as do her chums, Josie (Petra Joan-Athene), Michael (Abdul-Malik Janneh) and Tom (Gordon Millar).

Farshid Rokey is a smoldering powerhouse as Ahmet the refugee boy at the back of the class. He has haunting eyes that suck you in, a killer smile and when he erupts: he takes no prisoners.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

Special shout out to Joe McNamara as Brendan the bully. His thought process jumps the curtain line and had me thinking about his untold back story.

Success is believing the adult actors we see are actually nine and ten years old and this happens in spades. Without exception all of the cast give and keep giving from curtain up to walkdown.

‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ is an unmissable triumph for all the family – try and grab a seat this week at Malvern Theatres before it finishes on Saturday, March 23. If not catch the tour in Wolverhampton next month – it’s at the Grand there from April 16 to 20.

Click here for times, tickets and more information for The Boy at the Back of the Class at Malvern Theatres.

 

*****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

 

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