The Boy at the Back of the Class

Based on the award-winning children’s novel by Onjali Rauf, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a remarkable story that combines excitement, adventure, and some emotional truths that are important for everyone to hear. 

Told from a child’s perspective, this show is a beautiful balance of heart warming and heart breaking, as it highlights the power of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense, and reminds us that everyone needs a place to call home.

This lesson is learnt through the journey of our protagonist Ahmet, who is a refugee - similar to those we can all recognise from segments on the news and in the papers. Except instead of this story being one of violence and destruction, it is one of hope and change for the better making it relatable for all audiences. Nick Ahad has done a fantastic job of translating this story from page to stage, and you will leave desperate to read the original book to see where all these brilliant ideas came from. There was a lovely ratio of fast-paced scenes and slower moments, to allow both playfulness and sombre energies to shine through, and it was very much an emotional rollercoaster, which fit the plot perfectly. 

Directed by Monique Touko, assisted by Amy Crighton, the cast of 10 explode across the stage playing multiple roles that each bring a new light to the piece. Although the ensemble chemistry was flawless, there were still some standout performances from certain actors including our narrator Sasha Desouza-Willcock, and one of her trusty sidekicks, ‘Tom’ played by Gordon Miller. These two command the stage with unwavering presence, and constantly find new ways to engage us with their mission - to reunite their classmate with his family after learning about his awful past. 

There is something powerful about adults playing younger characters, especially when they transform from grown up to child in a matter of moments during a scene change. It’s as if this was done purposefully, to demonstrate how the younger generation view ‘adult’ topics, and their refreshing inquisitiveness around these issues. Lily Arnold’s designs breathe life into this idea by creating a realistic school setting that is fluid enough to also embody the more abstract states in the play. A multi-use backdrop (constructed by Four-Square Productions) facilitates some of epic movement sequences, and uses magnetic props that are regularly swapped and re-invented, filling the whole space with nostalgic textures and objects that take you straight back to your own time in year 5. A huge mention also has to go to the entire stage management team as every transition in the show was so seamless and incredibly time efficient.

Another element that really energised the auditorium is the sound and lighting departments. Tom Davis (LX Programmer) immerses us in a typical sports gymnasium, a super speed disco, and at the gates of Buckingham Palace all within the space of two hours. At the same time, Kiel Deakin (the Production Sound Engineer) demonstrates an impressive ability to amplify football matches, taxi rides, and playground fights through the power of audio in a way that’s rarely seen in live theatre.  

It was very enjoyable to see the cast actually play on the stage, like school children would. Courtesy of movement director Kloe Dean and fight coordinator Maisie Carter, these often humorous but also hard hitting elements are what made the piece feel so real, as it is such an accurate depiction of what life at school is like for so many.

It’s no wonder that this story is used in curriculums across the country - it’s a book everyone should have had access to from a young age, as it encourages acceptance and understanding. 

This show was reviewed on the 8th February 2024 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston where it runs until the 22nd February 2024.  Tickets available here: The Boy at the Back of the Class — Based on the bestselling novel | Rose Theatre, Kingston, London

Full tour details here: https://www.theboyatthebackoftheclass.co.uk/#booktickets

Review written by Katie McConnell

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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