AMONG THE theatre highlights of next week’s schedule of shows from Galway International Arts Festival is Class, co-written and directed by Iseult Golden and David Horan, and presented in association with the Abbey Theatre at An Taibhdhearc.
Class is a much-acclaimed comedy drama about a parent-teacher meeting that goes very wrong. A recently separated couple, Brian and Donna, who never liked school themselves, are called in to meet the teacher of their son who has learning difficulties. The play wittily explores the complications and comedy that ensues when three adults find themselves back in class.
Ahead of their play’s Galway visit, Golden and Horan spoke with me about its themes. “We were both interested in the notion of success, what helps us succeed or prevents us from succeeding,” Golden begins. “We were very interested in the idea of how our relationships to authority can help or hinder us. We were both reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers at the time. He had a story there about a guy with genius level IQ but he kept getting kicked out of university because he had a terrible relationship with his tutors so his relationship with authority was causing him to fail.”
“We were interested in that because we saw it as a way into discussing how Irish society works,” Horan adds. “There are a lot of things that are fixed in Irish society that we tend not to acknowledge. The modern western world has its capitalist dream that we live in a meritocratic society where everybody who works hard gets rewarded but that isn’t always the case and we wanted to look at that.”
“One of the ideas we had was that of benign authority,” Golden continues. “So we have a teacher as a benign authority figure and these two parents who come in to see him, and they don’t have a great relationship, and we see how things get difficult in their meeting; there are miscommunications and things go from bad to worse.”
The play dramatises how insecurities we first experience as children can stay with us as adults. "Everybody who sees the play recognises that feeling of regression, when you find yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable," Horan explains. "You shouldn’t be uncomfortable anymore as an adult but somehow those feelings from when you were younger and less powerful just recur.”
Class’s title not only alludes to the classroom where the action unfolds but to the social standing of its characters; “We have a middle class teacher who has chosen to work in a disadvantaged school,” Golden notes. “At the beginning of the play two working class parents come in because their son has reading difficulties.
"The teacher has a different way of expressing himself than the parents, and they both have bad memories of being pupils in this same school when they were kids. They still carry those experiences with them, so the relationship they have to the classroom and the social class differences between themselves and the teacher create pressures that buckle the meeting and it all starts to go wrong. We hope the play deals with the issue of class with real nuance so you are with each character along the way, and not just sympathising with one side of the story.”
"Everyone who comes to see Class gets a lot of laughs of recognition,” Horan declares. “The play starts off very funny and continues that way for a while but slowly audiences discover they are in a more serious play than it seemed at the beginning.”
“When we do interviews about the play we often feel we make it sound like it is very serious and intellectual,” Golden observes, "whereas there is a lot of humour in those situations of people being defensive, it is a comedy of manners that goes down very well. The play also portrays a marriage in trouble and there is a sense of a relationship that still has some good in it, even though it is struggling, and that is another theme. The child who has learning difficulties and another child appear in the play as well, and our adult actors play those parts and we see them as children when they still had lots of potential. We are blessed with a great cast of Stephen Jones, Sarah Morris, and Will O’Connell who bring it all to life brilliantly.”
Class runs at An Taibhdhearc from July 24 to 29 at 8pm. There will be a post-show talk after the show (which starts 6pm that evening ) on July 26. For tickets see www.giaf.ie