In 1997, I was seven years old. I spent my days in my royal blue uniform with my knees grazed and my head in a book. I wanted to be Baby, but was always Posh, and dreamed of digging up dinosaurs.
Also in 1997: things were changing around me, and I was mostly unaware. Among the pop hits and bindis and hair braids, there was turbulence; a change in government, tough times in education, and uncertainty for the future. The impending Millenium heralded both anticipation and fear.
The Edinburgh-Festival hit show, Education Education Education, has arrived in Southampton, ready to transport us back to that exact year in the late nineties, using humour and poignancy to look beyond the bubblegum exterior and take things a little deeper.
The Wardrobe Ensemble invite us into a local secondary school for the last day of term for the Year 11s. It is chaos; with muck-up day in full swing and troublesome teens wreaking havoc through the halls, staff are celebrating last night’s Labour victory and our last Eurovision win, while trying to remain sane and stay in control.
We are taken through the day by Tobias, a visiting German language assistant who is seeing everything, like us, for the first time, from a different culture. Along with him, we are able to see things for what they really are, past the biased opinions of some of the teachers, and when things take a dramatic turn and things get dangerous, he is able to find some perspective.
This is a clever exploration of nineties Britain, using key moments in politics ‘back then’ to reflect our current state. We can look backward and forward, and consider how far we’ve really come. We look at the rise and fall of the education system; the billions of pounds of funding from a brand new government and, decades later in the present day, the donation calls for simple supplies for students. We look at the keenness of teachers beaten away to eventual apathy, and the rise of the once-hopeless drop-out.
It’s poignant, and the final moments drew a tear to my eye. It pulls at the heartstrings, feeding off nostalgia, while also using humour and superb staging to keep the audience captivated and laughing. As I stifled a giggle at the enthusiastic dance moves taking place on stage, I felt a lump in my throat; it’s a strange sensation, but the mark of a very special production.
This show is fun; the soundtrack is excellent and there are odes to pop-culture icons throughout which, for anyone who grew up in that era, will bring up a nostalgia that may make your chest ache; especially when you realise, terrifyingly, that the nineties were nearly thirty years ago. I think it is this familiarity which makes it so special, so relatable, and so entertaining.
The cast is brilliant too, switching from teacher to student and back, each one a recognisable classmate or colleague or form tutor from back in the day; the terrifying disciplinarian, the laissez-faire English teacher, the overly friendly head, and the rebellious and fiery teen one a one-way route to self-destruct.
Education, Education, Education is not just a trip down memory lane; it is a lesson in life, using the story of our education system to teach us more. It is a feast of nostalgia, fiery and fun, and loaded with poignancy. It is politics, human nature, and Cool Britannia loaded into 120 minutes. To me, it’s very clear why it was such a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe; you don’t need to be the class swot to work that one out.
Catch Education, Education, Education at Nuffield Southampton Theatres until Saturday 12th inclusive – visit the website to book your tickets before it’s too late.
The show is also on tour and will be heading to Northampton, Hull and Ipswitch. Visit the Wardrobe Ensemble’s website for more information.
More like this:
I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.