by Laura Kressly
Toye is 16 and ready to change the world. But first, he has an audition for a music scholarship at a private school, all his coursework, his friends always want him to hang out, and his dad is ill. He also wants to while away the time reading up on the Black British people and history that’s left out of the inadequate school curriculum. In short, he’s very busy and trapped in a racist and inflexible education system that he wants to change but also exploit to his advantage, and the pressure is starting to get to him.
With Toye and his two best mates Asha and Remi, writer Dipo Baruwa-Etti has created an inspiring set of characters that capture the progressive ambitiousness of bright teenagers who want to do something important and meaningful in a world that is fundamentally set against them. The story’s conflict arises from how they think is the best way to achieve that, and the hypocrisy they perceive in each other. Toye is ready to protest after his break time speeches about forgotten Black heroes are quelled by the headteacher, and rightly thinks the national curriculum is inherently flawed. Head girl Remi agrees with the headteacher and thinks change is slow, and needs to be made from inside institutions. Asha, who’s fully on-board with the speeches, wants to expand them to include other Global Majority races. True to the lives of teenagers, their arguments put their friendship at risk, impact other areas of their lives and is achingly conveyed in the story arc and dialogue.
The performances are excellent – youthful optimism and vulnerability abound, and they evoke both nostalgia and cringe from the adults in the audience who remember the real and imagined high stakes of school days. The cast wear their characters’ politics easily, and powerfully convey the nuance of racial and gender difference. Combined with a skillfully-written script, this is a typically high-quality production from Paines Plough.
Half-Empty Glasses runs through 28 August.
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