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Day trippers;Set Play;Theatre;Reviews

OUR DAY OUT. By Willy Russell. Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. February 19-March 13. Tickets: 01708 443333).

Education has changed a lot in the two decades since Mrs Kay's "progress class" of inner-city Scousers first set off for a school trip to North Wales. Nevertheless, Kit Thacker, whose Hornchurch production has east London youngsters visiting Sussex and Bodiam Castle instead, says it remains a pertinent piece of theatre. "Its characters are all very clear when they walk on stage and we think we understand them but during the play we realise their depth and complexity."

All the class have their own "journeys": Andrews, the 13-year-old who likes behaving as if he's 17, realises there's no stigma attached to being 13.

Riley, a hard case, flirts with the young teacher Susan. She challenges him and he realises he's a bit daft and is crushed by Susan's challenge. She puts the bits back together and advises him to look for a girl.

Linda's song of infatuation with her teacher Colin (played at Hornchurch as a formal ball fantasy) shows that she "realises her feelings make her look stupid, that she's embarrassing, not flattering Colin. She realises her fellow-pupil Riley is someone 'in her league'."

Teachers change too. Briggs, the disciplinarian with contempt for these low- achieving teenagers, realises the depth of the people he'd written off as troublesome kids. Even nice Mrs Kay questions her teaching methods, the "woolly liberalism" Briggs despises.

Certainly, Thacker says, while they may be right for Mrs Kay with her class, Russell isn't advocating one teaching method for everyone.

The difference is, the pupils haven't given up. They'll still take on the world and battle, while some of the adults have given up. Even Briggs might change, but we cannot be sure; "Russell doesn't offer easy optimism".

Timothy Ramsden

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