Bailey (Alice Vilanculo) like scars. She thinks they’re good, a way to tell the world whether someone’s been in pain. Dealing with pain that doesn’t leave marks is much harder, because people don’t always get it. Surrounded by posters against bullying, her anger fills the room, quickly escalating without any good reason other than the invisible pain that is consuming her from inside. She’s angry with the world, with a system that is failing to protect her. And her coping mechanism is to be rude and aggressive with everyone else.
Trying to make sense of it all is Polly (Tina Chiang), headteacher at the Pupil Referral Unit in charge of Bailey’s education. On her last day at work she’s still learning the hard way that working with vulnerable youth is more about listening than teaching academic notions. It’s also about juggling professionalism with empathy, personal safeguarding procedures with human connection.
Also in the classroom is Mo (Parys Jordon), a teacher who lives in the area, and Ryan, a pupil with a speech impediment and a dramatic family background – astonishingly portrayed by the very talented Harry McMullen. During an hour of real time in their company, we get an insight of the dramatic issues surfacing in these overstretched and under-resourced institutions, at a time when the number of pupils being referred is increasing, whilst government cuts are causing them to close.
Drawing from the playwright’s direct experience working within a PRU, E8 isn’t intended as a political play, although it becomes one by necessity. Showing the circumstances without rhetoric, it silently points a finger at the systemic and historical underprivilege of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds. It exposes how regularly they’re seen like folders stuffed with reports to fill, rather than individual human beings. The title refers to the London postcode that delimits Hackney, Dalston and Haggerston, where this structure is located.
The intense delivery of E8 packs quite a punch. Every line is so heartfelt that when the play is over and the cast finally address the audience out of character, I let out a sigh of relief knowing that they’re all fine.
Author: Marika Mckennell
Director: Ria Parry
Producer: The North Wall in association with The Pleasance
Box Office: +44 (0)131 226 0000
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/e8
Booking Until: 25 August 2019