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The Boy At The Back Of The Class review (The Marlowe Theatre)

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Onjali Q. Raúf’s award-winning children’s story ‘The Boy At The Back Of The Class’ which centres on a young refugee from Syria is currently touring UK regional theatres. Adapted for the stage by Nick Ahad and told from a year 5 pupil’s point of view, the Children’s Theatre Partnership and Rose Theatre co-production is in Canterbury this week, spending 4 days at the Marlowe Theatre. The book is on the school curriculum and recommended for children aged 9-12 years, but this thoughtful, funny and engaging play will resonate with all ages, reflecting on the innocence of childhood against the backdrop of the refugee crisis.

The Boy At The Back Of The Class programme in front of the finale staging at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

About the play

At its heart the play combines both adventure and compassion, with the children at the centre of the story intrigued by the arrival of a new pupil, who they know very little about. Initially unable to speak English, the children learn that Ahmet (Farshid Rokey) is a refugee from Syria and he has been separated from his family over migration rules. The narrator Alexa (Sasha Desouza-Willock) and her ‘A Team’ group of friends (Josie, Michael and Tom) are desperate to help reunite Ahmet with his family and set their efforts on a master plan to bring them to the UK.

Power of perspective

Despite focusing on poignant and complex themes, the young voice of the narrator and child’s perspective make this a perfect teaching tool for young audiences. The topics are naturally oversimplified given that the narrator is 9 years old, but this is deeply refreshing and encourages the audience (particularly the adults in the room) to reflect on the impact of conflict and the civilians who have had to flee their countries as a result. The production also highlights the dangers of speech and rhetoric coming from adults and authority figures, in the presence of children.

Curtain call for The Boy At The Back Of The Class at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Photo captured during the curtain call

I adored the childlike innocence of the play, from the inquisitive nature of the script to the accidental speech mishaps which occur as a result of processing information second hand. Even with a young target demographic, adults will find it funny, emotional and relatable, specifically the childlike need to question what they see. My only feedback would be that having adults play the young characters means that the voices are quite exaggerated and high pitched at times, which reduces the clarity of the dialogue. A slightly more realistic approach to the voices would prevent this effect and microphones would also make it easier for people sitting further away from the stage to hear the speaking.

Sound design

The Boy At The Back Of The Class is a relatively upbeat play overall, using modern day music and refined sound effects in its storytelling. Giles Thomas’ sound works in tandem with Kloé Dean’s movements to provide backing to the elements of physical theatre. From the football games to riding a London bus, the sounds are perfectly timed to provide ambiance to each segment of choreography. Director Monique Touko has facilitated the cohesion between the actors and production team, making the sound design a standout element.

Curtain call for The Boy At The Back Of The Class at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Photo captured during the curtain call

The music is also really amusing at times, particularly the use of the Mission Impossible theme tune to highlight the A Team’s plans. It helps add humour to an emotional production and keep the themes lighter for young audiences.

Set and lighting design

Lily Arnold’s primary school gymnasium set is simple, but different formations mean that many London locations can be recreated through rotating set pieces. Props and innovative lighting effects are used to transform the arrangements and they help keep the staging vibrant and colourful. It is concrete proof that moving theatre can be visually fun too and not impact the amount of sensitivity within the script.

The Boy At The Back Of The Class programme outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

A fantastic piece of children’s theatre

With a brilliantly talented cast, The Boy At The Back Of The Class is one of the best pieces of children’s theatre that I have seen for a while. It is not one to be missed, particularly if your children are reading Raúf’s book. It also has the power to encourage adults to look at the world from a child’s perspective again and see the refugee crisis from a more simplistic point of view. There is something to be said about youthful innocence and not overthinking things! The Boy At The Back Of The Class is based at the Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 25th May, with last minute tickets available via the theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for The Boy At The Back Of The Class was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.



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