School play makes politics palatable
A musical written by two teachers to persuade their 13-year-old pupils to take an interest in current affairs has been snapped up by a London theatre.
Desmond O'Connor and Andrew Taylor's play, which draws on Franz Kafka's The Trial, charts the breakdown of an American salesman put behind bars for terrorist offences he claims he did not commit.
The aim was to find a way to interest their pupils in an exploration of immigration law and the erosion of civil liberties. Realising that the play, Failed States, had a broader appeal, the teachers staged a two-week run at the small Baron's Court theatre in west London. After enjoying packed houses and rave reviews, they received an offer of a further three weeks at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, north London.
Mr Taylor teaches English at Notre Dame school in Cobham, Surrey. Mr O'Connor is head of seniors, head of drama and teaches Latin at Eaton Square school, in Westminster.
Mr O'Connor said: "We used every second, every holiday we've had, for rehearsing, auditions and rewrites. We wanted to use drama in a political way, which I think happens less and less now, particularly for a teenage audience.
"We didn't do anything patronising with the music - there's no rapping.
I've done a few of the songs with my Year 8 boys, and they're a very critical audience.
"The music, as the play progresses, is a nice way of showing the unravelling of the salesman who is the central character."
The authors met as students at Homerton college, Cambridge, where Mr O'Connor was musical director of Footlights. Mr Taylor did an MA in playwriting at Birmingham university. Two years ago they set up their own production company with the aim of getting original theatre dealing with edgy, topical themes onto the stage.
Mr Taylor's plays have been produced at venues including the Edinburgh Fringe. Mr O'Connor performs musical comedy on the London cabaret circuit.
Failed States is on at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington, from October 24 to November 12