Review: Mogadishu – Arts Theatre, Cambridge

Not everything is always black and white. Facts about an event can be manipulated to suit personal agendas and racism can flow in many directions.

In an inner city secondary school, teacher Amanda steps in to break up a fight between students. In the process, she is assaulted though is reluctant to report perpetrator Jason as his exclusion would harm his future prospects.

Jason also recognises the impact of his actions but strikes first by fabricating a counter claim of assault and racial abuse against his teacher. Amanda initially thinks the fuss will soon blow over but the ensuing drama is like watching a pile of dominoes crash one after the other – each move causing further layers of hurt, hate and destruction.

As things progress from the school through the layers of local authority bureaucracy, the allegation has grave consequences for both sides.

Vivienne Franzmann’s debut full length play is an assured work, drawing heavily on her extensive teaching career for an insight into the challenges of trying to balance support and encouragement with discipline in education. Franzmann’s script carefully unveils layers of detail, building for a horrifying yet compulsive viewing. Much is helped by the gritty realism of the dialogue and the carefully drawn characters, each totally believable and recognisable.

Franzmann could have easily turned Jason into a villain; however, while his attempts to intimidate and control his gang to make increasingly overblown accusations to support him are abhorrent, there is a backstory, carefully revealed that, while not condoning his actions, make them comprehensible. It is his father who perhaps describes it best – a little boy desperately trying to play at being a man.

There are strong performances throughout the company, giving each character a well observed depth. Ryan Calais Cameron is impressive as the troubled Jason – full of pent-up aggression and frustration. Jackie Clune’s Amanda also develops nicely, from the easy going teacher always seeing the best in her pupils to a woman whose hopes and dreams have been destroyed by the system.

Matthew Dunster’s production flows seamlessly from scene to scene, building up tension throughout, making great use of Tom Scutt’s multipurpose caged set. Using the ensemble to carry out swift scene changes maintains pace and Ian Dickinson’s subtle yet effective underscore builds on the palpable sense of conflict.

It is an impressive and relevant piece that manages to keep the wide age range in the audience totally enthralled throughout. The ending, while dramatic, does seem somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the production and some of the teenagers’ performances need dialling back a couple of notches away from Catherine Tate’s ‘am I bovverred’ angst. These are minor points, however, as overall this is a production that can’t fail to impress. It may prove uncomfortable viewing at times, and the language is certainly not for the faint hearted, but it is a compelling and powerful drama told with skill and flair.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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