I wonder whether Bella Soroush (Jasmine Hyde) should have toughened up a little. Did nobody tell her when she was doing teacher training that there were going to be pupils like Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling)? Kane, some years later, confesses to being a “twat” – I say ‘some’ years later: the maths, ironically for a play in an educational setting, doesn’t entirely add up when it comes to how old each character is. It’s hardly the salient point here, in a play that’s not for the faint-hearted. Let’s just say there are relatively few people in Britain today who possess a baseball bat purely, if at all, for the purposes of recreational sport.
I don’t know why Jam is called Jam, and that’s having seen Jam. There’s no jam in the show, and as far as I can recall, the word ‘jam’ isn’t in the dialogue. Anyway, the pre-show stage atmosphere attempts to be eerie with voices echoing in the background. It isn’t possible to decipher who is saying what, but it gave a strong impression this was representative of voices from the past returning to haunt one or both characters. The set itself could have been a visual portrayal of almost any workplace, and it was the distant sound of a school bell that brought back unpleasant memories of my own school days.
The script develops both characters well. Neither is wholly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, so what initially was a question about whether it is ever right for a teacher to strike a pupil – self-defence being the mitigating circumstance here – becomes a fascinating and somewhat complex examination (pardon the pun) about lying and the reasons why people lie. Sometimes, as with Kane, it isn’t always possible to pinpoint why there was lying going on, but here, rather like an alcoholic admitting their situation, acknowledging the fault is a major breakthrough.
It’s not an entirely watertight script, and it’s not an entirely watertight production. Some of the pauses, particularly early on, are a tad too long, and I failed to understand, for instance, what right Bella had to rummage through Kane’s personal belongings, or why Kane tacitly agreed to her doing so by not raising an objection. More widely, however, it’s Kane’s differing moods that made a slightly dull first half more tolerable. The play does, to be fair, find its stride eventually and settles into a decent pace. It veered too close to melodrama on occasion for my liking, and in the dying moments of the play, the background sound effects began to irritate.
Perhaps it was deliberately meant to add to the level of discomfort the last few minutes gives the audience. I stifled a yawn at some point in the first half-hour; in the last half-hour of this ninety minute show I was gripped as the story built to a crescendo. Some excellent use is made of the available stage space. On one level, however, the play doesn’t tell its audiences anything new. It’s the sort of message one would expect from a feel-good musical. Go out there, do your thing, live for the moment, throw caution to the wind and seize the day. On a deeper level, this is one of those shows that raises far more questions than it even attempts to answer. It’s a provocative and forthright play. And that’s the truth.
Jam, by Matt Parvin
Until Saturday 17 June
Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Box Office 0844 847 1652
Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 7.30pm and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm