Note: This was a R&D work in progress performance
We’ve all seen young boys – and it is generally boys – who should be in school, running, jumping, shouting, generally being loud and animated on the streets. It might have made us a bit anxious; their unpredictability could become aggressive and dangerous. We don’t linger. We don’t query why they are behaving like that. Is it drugs? Bad parenting? Or is there an underlying condition that isn’t being addressed? Wet Cement asks these questions and provides some answers.
We know the education system fails many people, but this piece of work demonstrates just how badly people are let down and the ramifications of that failure. Expulsion is the easy option: get difficult kids out of the classroom, throw them on the streets at the mercy of drug dealers and the gig economy. Don’t ask why, just remove them. Both characters here, Ali the teacher (Linda Edmonds) and Danny the student (Moneer Elmasseek), have been failed by the system. The pressure of trying to teach kids who need more than she can give becomes too much for Ali, especially when she’s judged during an inspection and is marked down for becoming too emotionally involved with her students. The quality of caring, which those students need most, Ali is not allowed to provide. So another compassionate professional is lost.
It is later in life: Danny is estranged from his partner and daughter because of run-ins with the police; Ali has become a part-time tutor, free from judgement and able to give the help she knows students need. Their paths cross again and it takes some time for them to trust each other. Ali was tangentially involved in Danny’s expulsion, and he fears she still sees him as that troublesome, worthless boy. Danny needs her help to get a decent job, extricate himself from the drug scene and get his partner and daughter back.
Eventually, the bond they create sees them both come out the other side of their past experiences into a fresh start. Ali helps Danny achieve the diagnosis of ADHD he should have had when at school and his world starts to make sense.
Elmasseek’s portrayal of Danny, a neurodivergent man struggling to make his way in the world is very strong and totally believable. The loud outbursts, the rage, the inappropriate jokes, needing music to distract himself from tasks, all serve to draw us into his situation. Equally, Edmonds as Ali is the teacher we all knew; kind-hearted but constrained by rules, by boundaries that she has put in place to protect herself, but which are ultimately doing her more harm than good.
Darrel Draper’s writing sensitively weaves the lives of the two characters together, through the difficult transitions and acceptance of their past experiences and without preaching, allowing us to have an understanding of, and an insight into, the neurodivergent world.
Given Wet Cement is a work in progress, and this is an R&D performance, it’s really not far off the finished article. The cast apparently had only two weeks to put the show on its feet and if this is what they achieved in that time, then the next stage of the production will be even more emotionally pertinent. The characters are well defined, relatable and with a bit more development this play will make audiences think twice about their views of those boys they currently give a wide berth to. Wet Cement deserves to be taken from the small stage in the foyer of Queens Theatre to the main stage.
Written by: Darrel Draper
Directed by: Harry Fitzpatrick and Lizzie Jackson
Wet Cement has completed its current run. This was a R&D performance.