Melonade - Camden People's Theatre
I only went to this show at the invitation of the Camden People’s Theatre, who offered me a complimentary ticket, as I was there anyway to see a different show earlier on the same evening – I don’t ordinarily bother with immersive and interactive shows, and frankly I could have done without seeing Melonade (isn’t hindsight a terrible thing?). I did not need an hour-long show to tell me the Government is utterly incompetent. Becks Turner does, to her credit, include a series of recorded opinions from a variety of people about how the education system impacted them. The contributors were all dyslexic – as is Turner – and a lot of their gripes focused on examinations as a method of student assessment.
Turner herself much preferred coursework, in which she could take her time and present work that has been properly spell-checked. To sit in an exam hall and write at length under timed conditions put her and fellow dyslexics at a substantial disadvantage, and all the ‘extra time’ in the world wasn’t really going to do very much for them. To demonstrate what it is like, she set her audience several drawing tasks. One member of the audience was (willingly) selected to guess what others had drawn – they faced the opposite direction to where projections of what was meant to be drawn were displayed on old-school acetate sheets. I had no idea what the film star named in the first drawing round should be drawn in such a way that someone else could guess who they were, so I refused to participate.
But I reckon I was one step ahead – or perhaps I’m only a legend in my own mind. The drawing tasks got increasingly complex, and the time allocated for drawing increasingly shorter – in the final round, someone in the front row had managed to draw a square and nothing else. The point, ridiculously elaborately made, is that exams for dyslexics can be pretty much impossible. Turner was particularly angry at Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education when she was at secondary school – his focus on exams as the primary method of assessment meant a whole generation of dyslexic pupils were essentially made to feel worthless and of no use to society at all.
It wasn’t, I should add, an hour of relentless Tory bashing – making ‘melonade’, which is a thing (Google it if you don’t believe me), was attempted by several audience members, equipped with the ‘wrong’ tools to slice a melon open and get the liquid into a cup. It was, in the end, the same point about square objects not fitting into circular holes being made, or being given a plastic knife and told to cut a tree down with it. Government cuts have meant the tools once available to pupils to aid their studies are not there anymore, and so increasingly desperate measures end up being used. And so we see people opening a melon by stamping on it, jumping on it, bashing it against their head.
Perhaps it was because the show I’d come to review in the first place was rather profound and dealt with mental health and bereavement (amongst other things). At least Turner has long since realised that those official-looking bits of paper with ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ written on them aren’t, in the end, essential to a good and successful life.