On the evening of our first preview of CLASS, the new play we had co-written about a parent-teacher meeting that goes spectacularly wrong, we looked at each other and said: ‘Do you think this can possibly work?’
We were standing in a car park in Tallaght, Dublin and as we saw it, there was a lot to be worried about. The play was being produced for the Dublin International Theatre Festival in 2017 and was the culmination of years of work. We had written, produced and directed it. We had done development readings over a number of years and we’d worked hard to make the script as funny, accessible and also as involving and layered as it could possibly be.
But we have scenes where adults play 9-year-old children. Will audiences find that delightful as we do, or will they find it mawkish? We have a split timeline. Will it be clear? We have moments of awkwardness that we think are funny and very fresh. But what if we’re wrong?
Since then, the play has transferred to our National Theatre in Ireland, won a Fringe First in Edinburgh and is now touring to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, of which we are so proud. We hope Welsh audiences come along, enjoy and are moved by CLASS as other audiences have been. But it’s fascinating to remember how unsure we were of the work before it met an audience. And to recall that famous Hollywood saying: Nobody knows anything.
CLASS started out as an exploration of the idea of ‘entitlement’ and how it affects our choices and our progress through life. We had been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers which explores the nature of success. We were intrigued by the idea that someone’s relationship to authority could have ramifications throughout their life. In this one idea, we saw a way to look at ‘class’ in Ireland – how it operates, often in very subtle ways – without falling into the usual clichés.
We didn’t expect to produce a play that takes place in a classroom. In fact, we didn’t set out to create a narrative piece at all.
We explored a variety of situations where people are forced to confront an authority figure. We picked benign authority figures like nurses and librarians. We were intrigued to see how a natural or inherited trust/mistrust of authority guides our interactions, mostly in ways of which we’re completely unaware. We became fascinated by how, as individuals, we relate to authority figures, making assumptions and second-guessing ourselves. We saw how this can shape our whole lives, from career prospects to successful relationships, even our mental health.
The results were sometimes hilariously awkward, and other times heartbreaking. We felt we were on to something. We also started to see how these interactions are passed on through generations, and even through our institutions.
Somewhere in the process a story emerged.
It concerns Jayden, a 9-year-old boy who has reading difficulties. He comes from a disadvantaged area. His parents are supportive, although they’re going through a rough patch. And his new teacher thinks early intervention could really make a difference. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s a story, we think, for the present times and that speaks to a contemporary experience, where we see injustice all around and so often wonder at our inability to do anything about it. We’re still wondering about the meaning of our story. And we’re fascinated to see what it will mean in Cardiff and how a Welsh audience will relate to it. ‘Do you think this can possibly work?’
CLASS: May 1-4, Performances for the Curious, Wales Millennium Centre