Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name and 1967 film, Ayub Khan-Din has adapted a long awaited stage version. Reportedly 101 years old, author E.R Brathwaite's story is as ever relevant today. Although the race divide is thankfully less of an issue, classroom antics are not so far removed from today's.
It's 1948 and ex-Spitfire pilot Ricky Brathwaite, disadvantaged by his skin colour, has difficulty finding a job in post-war England. He signs as a teacher in an inner-city East End school where the headmaster Mr Florian has his own, unorthodox methods of running it. With pupils writing reports on the teachers and no punishment allowed Brathwaite has all the odds against him to turn his class of rebellious teenagers from viciousness and filth into sophisticated, educated young adults.
Matthew Kelly is a delight as headmaster Florian. It's unfortunate that his character is in such a rush throughout the play and is often speeding through his speech between entrance and exit. If only every headmaster oozed such warmth - he is definitely deserving of more stage-time. Ansu Kabia remains poised throughout despite constant racial abuse. Brathwaite's progression is clearly charted in Kabia's incredibly admirable portrayal. Paul Kemp is a humorous addition as Weston.
Stand-out pupils include Harriet Ballard as Monica, whose scene-stealing character awards her all of the laughs. Mykola Allen as Denham and Kerron Darby as Seales prove themselves as very strong additions. There is a high-energy, focussed young ensemble who assist in swift scenery repositioning and choreographed 'playground' interludes each of whom provide additional dialogue with conviction.
Ansu Kabia and Mykola Allen
Action happens on a stunning set by Mike Britton, made in-house at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton where the play premiered. A bombed-out school that works convincingly as a variety of settings with simple lighting changes and the flying in and out of a blackboard.
You can feel confident in saying - tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... thoroughly entertained by a top quality cast delivering a fast-paced and witty script. A sterling drama and heart-warming story of progression.
This is a strong opening production from the Touring Consortium Theatre Company's programme of five plays over the next two and a half years. To Sir, With Love is at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 26 October 2013. Book here.
Listen to part one and two of my interview with Matthew Kelly and Ansu Kabia:
Cast List: Mykola Allen, Harriet Ballard, Peta Cornish, Kerron Darby, Ansu Kabia, Matthew Kelly, Paul Kemp, Heather Nicol, Nicola Reynolds. Lauren Nightingale, Lorien Tear, Lauren Austin, Lorna Johnson, Callum Osbourne, Alastair Winning, Luke Bennett, Daniel Langford, Hugh Osborne, Amy Marchant, Linden Walcott-Burton, Daniel Cech-Lucas