Etymologically speaking, the word ‘nostalgia’ means a yearning for home. In the hands of the Wardrobe Ensemble, however, the belief that the grass was always greener in the past manifests itself as a yearning for school. The group’s new show Education, Education, Education zaps everyone back to the heady days of 1997. With the election just over, New Labour are at their newest and promising to pump up the three R’s with a mainline drip of dosh, dosh and more dosh.
For Millennials wanting a chance to throw themselves into a ball pit of childhood memories, this show piles nineties reference on nineties reference. In less than the time it takes to snap a shag band, they’ve already over-fed a tamagotchi, dressed up as Ginger Spice in the Union Jack dress and had a bit of a sing-along to Katrina and the Waves. In fact, they’ve had many sing-alongs, because along with a fairly loose political message (the Tories screwed state education) the production is crammed with slick, well-choreographed song and dance numbers.
Watching this new show, it’s easy to imagine why including all the upbeat comedy dance numbers proved irresistible. Having now worked together for a considerable amount of time, the Bristol-based group are more in sync than *NSYNC when it comes to dance routines. They really do throw their hands in the air like they just don’t care. Indeed, there’s nothing gratuitous about the ‘ensemble’ part of their name and I like to imagine that their lives off-stage resemble the fringe theatre equivalent of the scenes depicted in the S Club television series.
Because of this, it feels impressively polished for a new work premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe. The only problem is that the performers’ comedic skills are at times favoured over telling an overarching story. The first half of Education, Education, Education more resembles a collection of schools-based sketches than interlinking scenes from a bigger piece. Enjoyable as the early parts are, the work becomes much stronger in the latter half when a narrative emerges, and the comedy has a marginally darker and more serious edge to it. It wouldn’t take much reshuffling and rewriting to start on the storyline at an earlier point and, in doing so, bring more structure to the school-based shenanigans. Heads down for five more minutes and, like a lit splint to a Bunsen Burner, this one could suddenly go WHOOSH.
Education, Education, Education is on at Pleasance Dome until 27 August 2017, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Click here for more details.