Theatre Review: To Sir With Love

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TO Sir, With Love is the autobiographical story of ER Braithwaite’s first teaching post in 1948 London.

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Matthew Kelly. Pic: Comp

Matthew Kelly. Pic: Comp

King’s Theatre, Leven Street

An ex-RAF pilot and first class graduate from Cambridge University, Braithwaite finds himself being turned down for countless jobs in his chosen profession. While having to accept the prejudices of being a black man in post-war England, his only option is to take on a teaching post based in a rough East End school.

This new production, adapted by Ayub Khan Din, writer of the hit film East Is East, erases all the swinging 60s style from the popular 1967 film, presenting Braithwaite’s story in its original light.

His script is a fine mix of comedy and poignant drama. The ping-pong match of classroom taunts between pupils and pessimistic chat from the staff room give a vigorous energy to the production.

The down point to Khan Din’s script, however, is that it fails to delve deeper into some of the play’s key issues. We don’t really see how this determined teacher managed to turn his class of rebels into self-respecting students, or how Braithwaite tries to cope being surrounded by discrimination. Although it does successfully show how insular opinions of the past still simmer within society today – such as mixed raced relationships – it’s this aspect that appears most forced within the script.

Nevertheless, it still acts as a timeless reminder of an area of history which is not as distant as many would expect.

Ansu Kabia, as Braithwaite, shows great compassion within his role.

His noble manner throughout the performance doesn’t fade and his interaction with his younger cast makes for a satisfying viewing experience. Matthew Kelly is on fine form as the enlightening headmaster, Florian. In among Mike Britton’s stage design of a war-torn school building, the determination to bring back the motivation into his fellow staff and pupils is what really brings this story to life. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t see enough of him throughout the production.

Loaded with heart, and some great song and dance numbers, this will no doubt rekindle fond memories of distant schooldays.

• Run ends Saturday