Teacher's tale of classroom betrayal makes for prize-winning drama

6th August 2010 at 01:00
She draws on colleague's experience for play about pupil's false accusation

A teacher's debut play based on a close friend's experiences when faced with false allegations by pupils is to be staged at two major theatres.

Vivienne Franzmann, 39, has won the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright this year for her play Mogadishu, which is about a teacher falsely accused of assault and racism by a pupil.

The play exposes how an accused teacher can be caught up in a web of red tape where protocols can override common-sense judgments, the playwright says.

Mogadishu also won the prestigious Bruntwood Playwriting Competition, organised by the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Both the Royal Exchange and the Lyric Hammersmith in London are to stage the play early next year.

Ms Franzmann, a drama teacher from Walthamstow, north-east London, decided to write the play after 12 years' teaching in north London comprehensives.

She said she had always wanted to write a play, but was so busy working on school productions that she had no outlet for her own creative ambitions.

Encouraged by her partner Kevin, who urged her to enter the playwriting competition, she came up with the idea for the play after having dinner with a close friend, also a teacher.

"She had been falsely accused of assaulting a pupil, which had led her to leave the school eventually - not because of the actions of the school, but because she felt so let down by her pupils, some of whom corroborated the accuser's account.

"She is an amazing teacher who is warm and generous, and I thought if this could happen to her, it could happen to any of us.

"I thought this idea of false allegations is something we hear about with alarming regularity in teaching. I started thinking about the pupils who accuse teachers and their motivations, and what might lead other pupils to collude with them, and so my play was born."

Ms Franzmann said she drew on her own experience of London schools to write the play during an Easter holiday.

She said: "Once I had the plot, it just kind of flowed out of me. Because I was a teacher in London, I felt like I understood the characters I was writing and the world they belonged to."

During the redraft of the script, she spoke to teachers and headteachers to gain different perspectives on the issue.

She said: "The reality of what could - and does - happen when teachers are accused really shocked me, particularly the lack of control they have over the situation and the feelings of powerlessness."

She named the play after the capital of war-torn Somalia because it has become synonymous with chaos.

"Generally, people recognise the name and that it is a place of danger, but people who have never been there have no real understanding of the situation," she said.

Ms Franzmann took a year out of teaching to write the play, but starts back in a part-time job in east London in September.

She said that teaching in London comprehensives can be tough, but can be "brilliant" as well.

"It can be really funny being a teacher, and that's what I wanted in my play. Young people laugh all the time.

"So even though it is tough, there is a lot of good stuff."

Amanda Dalton, associate director for education at the Royal Exchange Theatre, said she was "immensely excited" by the play.

The theatre will run a series of tie-ins with the production, including workshops and teaching resources on the issues raised.

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