Film - Theatre - Music/Dance - Books - TV - Gallery - Art - Fashion/Lifestyle - Video

‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ – a strong play about kindness and understanding…

‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ –  a strong play about kindness and understanding…

Award-winning children’s novel adapted into a moving and poignant drama on the plight of refugee children…

By Suman Bhuchar

THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS’ is a debut novel by Onjali R Rauf about Ahmet – a young Syrian refugee boy – and his classmates who decide to reunite him with his parents.

Originally published in 2018, the book was awarded the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 and the Blue Peter Book Award 2019.

It has now been turned into a play by writer, Nick Ahad – more familiar as the Radio 4 Front Row presenter – and directed by Monique Touko, this is a warm hearted show with great audience engagement.

Ahment (Farshid Rokey)

Adult actors play the role of children and the Narrator –who is nameless until the end of the story – when we learn her name is Alexa (played by Sasha DeSouza-Willock) and she introduces us to her gang – Josie (Petra Joan-Athene), Michael (Abdul-Malik Janneh) Tom (Gordon Millar), who call themselves the ‘A’ team and then there is Brendan, the bully (Joe McNamara). There is a lot of boisterousness and silliness as the school mates are introduced.

The teacher Miss Khan (who also doubles up as Alexa’s mum, Priya) introduces the class to the new boy Ahmed in a fine performance by Farshid Rokey, who takes up the empty chair at the back of the class.

The story is seen from the perspective of the school children and there is a lot of fun to be had in the school break with them trying to peek into the staff room or joshing over toilet roll jokes. In the scene where they play football, the choreography by movement director Kloé Dean is fantastic.

Another beautiful moment occurs when Alexa and her mum try and find a pomegranate to give to Ahmed (as he doesn’t like lemon sherbets).

The versatile set, designed by Lily Arnold, looks like a school gym and transforms from a bus to a climbing frame to a market stall.

The boy doesn’t talk or speak English and while the ‘A’ team try and be friends and work towards understanding his trauma and what the word ‘refugee’ means, Brendan the Bully and a bad teacher, Mr Irons (a fine cameo by Zoe Zak), show their racist side.

Do you remember the life boats? Says the teacher.

The A team – Alexa (Sasha DeSouza-Willock), Josie (Petra Joan-Athene), Tom (Gordon Millar) and Michael (Abdul-Malik Janneh)

“The place he comes from is so horrible and scary so he had to find somewhere else to live.”

Initially, Alexa does the talking and then Ahmet gets his own voice and we learn he speaks Kurdish.

In the first act, we are told a lot about the characters and the action with moments of theatricality and song.

The Boy at The Back of the Class’ doesn’t shy away from the harsh truths about being a refuge and people’s reactions – but it does so in a sensitive way.

The style changes in the second act which is more performed and there are some very poignant moments, especially when Ahmed shows and tells his story with pictures and the children learn how he escaped from Syria with his family who have not been able to make it to the UK.

The company of ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’

“You never truly understand someone until you step into their shoes,” says the teacher whose favourite book is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and as soon as the children learn Ahmet’s full story, they become ‘activists’ to reunite him with his family before the border closes and the ending brings a tear to your eye.

ACV rating: **** (four out of five)

All pictures: ©ManuelHarlan saw the play at the Rose Theatre, Kingston but the show is currently touring England until June 8 and is now available at the following venues… (see below for summary)

It is going to Wolverhampton, Norwich, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Blackpool, Coventry, Poole and Leicester – see above link for individual listings and dates.

The show is a Rose Original Production with Children’s Theatre Partnership.

Recommended 7yrs+
Running time 2 hours, plus interval.
Contains themes of death, war, violence and bullying

Share Button
Written by Asian Culture Vulture