SUITS AND BLOUSES - Review by Mike Squires
Morning Star Thursday June - 10th 1999

The Room (Orange Tree Theatre) Richmond

Raising important issues

Ian Buckley's new short play, which was especially written for The Room at the Orange Tree, would appeal to anyone who is involved in education. Punchy, funny and with just four characters, in less than an hour it treats us to a fascinating insight into the market-driven world of the school.

Head girl Sarah is a radical. She is opposed to the Head's attempts at change, which are designed to attract to the school those from the locality who are academically able. At the heart of this creaming process is the introduction of school uniforms.

Sarah's opposition is undermined by a secret, known only to Sarah's tutor Marion, who has promised the Head to use her close relationship with the student to stifle her rebellion.

The secret of forceful Sarah, herself a daughter of teachers, is that she is in love with the idealistic Jez, a young graduate from Oxford and new teacher at the school. In order to safeguard her lover's position, Sarah finally gives way, due to a subtle combination of Marion's persuasive arguments and her threat to reveal the affair.

This is very much a play for today. The Headmaster, admirably played by Ewan Thompson, is a Chris Woodhead cardboard cut-out. He wants a comprehensive school to be selective and, for him, the be-all and end-all of education is reduced to nothing more than academic achievement.

In the pursuit of this aim, he is ably assisted by the woolly Marion who, tempted by the soon-to-be-vacant post of deputy head, succumbs to the head's charms. We are not sure if her seduction is purely professional or whether she has secret designs on headmaster Peter.

The relationship between Sarah and Jez is an interesting one. And again one wonders if the playwright has been influenced by the Woodhead revelations.

Suits and Blouses is no easy fix. We are left feeling no sympathy for a scheming head and his poodle-like accomplice, who are set on turning the school into a mini Eton.

But the opposition are no knights in shining armour. Can we condone a relationship between a teacher and a pupil, even if they are trying to hold back the charge of market forces into education?

This play, like life, is complex - there are shades of grey - but in the end the message is a real one. Education is as much about building relationships as it is about achieving GCSE passes.

It is a play that, with the issues it raises, should be seen by schoolchildren and teachers alike.

The play had only a short run, sadly already over, but keep an eye open for further productions.