Thursday, 29 January 2015

LABOUR FOR LEARNING: Life lessons abound in well-acted, richly funny Saving Alligator High

CLASS ACTS: (From left) Campbell, Davis, Elise, Wilson and Deer share a scene.

Saving Alligator High (Jambiz Productions)
Director: Trevor Nairne and Patrick Brown
Cast: Glen Campbell, Camille Davis, Courtney Wilson, Sakina Deer, and Sharee Elise
Venue: Centrestage Theatre, New Kingston

We all know that in many a school setting the classroom very often provides the scene for the scandalous, clutch-those-pearls behaviour of students. But the staffroom? Child, that's where the real drama unfolds. In Saving Alligator High, the latest exuberant comedy by Patrick Brown, the spotlight is on the teachers for a change, and that's precisely why the production is such a refreshing treat for theatre's faithful audiences. 

In tackling the Jamaican education system, the play gives us a sobering, realistic glimpse at modern school life but from the perspective of the educators. And, of course, it's all spun with Brown's trademark blend of hysterical humour, wicked wit, and keenly observant storytelling. 

Alligator High, situated in the rough-and-tumble inner-city, is not your average Jamaican secondary institution. With its badly performing student body, unmotivated teachers, depressing physical conditions and scant resources it's, unsurprisingly, been branded "a failing school" one urgently in need of a lifeline. 

That's where Mistress Sonya Lee comes in. An uptight, well-spoken addition to the staff, she's a no-nonsense woman on a mission, intent on rescuing the school from the brink of demise. It's a character played with much empathy and sophisticated flair by Sharee Elise, who gets to flaunt her leading-lady bonafides to dazzling effect. It's a solid, memorable turn from the fast-rising actress whose talents continue to blossom nicely. 

Sonya Lee's work-driven attitude comes off in stark contrast to her seasoned colleagues who are more prone to gossiping than lesson planning. We meet the grammatically challenged "lickterature" teacher Bev Beckford (an appealing Camille Davis) and the flirtatious Tami Turnbull (Sakina Deer) who has a soft spot for the cricket-loving mathematics pro Jeff Jones (Glen Campbell) and his wallet. Courtney Wilson, as Fox Bell the PE instructor who takes a shine to the young girls he coaches, rounds out the main cast. 

They're a pretty diverse bunch, but if there's one thing they share it's a frustration with the school's deplorable infrastructure and working conditions, not to mention the dangerous students and parents they have to deal with every day none more threatening than one Paul "Dragon" Reese and his gangster dad Shotty Shotty Sean (David Crossgill). 

In a moment when buzzwords like accountability are being banded about locally, and the education ministry has waged war on all non-performing schools, Saving Alligator High offers an up-close, micro snapshot of a system in crisis. But you can't deny the feeling of positive change that eventually buoys up the show thanks in large part to Sonya Lee's infectious can-do spirit. As Mistress Lee's actions make abundantly clear, the outlook might be depressingly bleak but optimism should always win in the end. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

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