Royal Exchange Manchester and Lyric Theatre Hammersmith
Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring
Mogadishu tells the story of a false allegation of racial abuse and violence made by a black teenager against a white teacher to protect himself from the consequences of his own bullying actions against a Turkish boy, the latest in a long list of actions which will almost certainly lead to his permanent exclusion.
First time playwright Vivienne Franzmann (one of the winners of the 2008 Bruntwood Playwriting Competition) is a schoolteacher and it shows.
It shows in the closely observed details of life in a sink school, in the attitudes of the students and staff, and in the parental reaction - not least the defensiveness and desire to pass the blame onto others, particularly the school and teachers - to disciplinary problems.
It shows, too, in the almost idealised portrayal of idealistic teacher Amanda - but one has to wonder if a teacher of her experience in such a school would be quite so naïve as to believe that teenagers would not support, even unwillingly, a powerful (indeed bullying) peer in a conflict with a teacher.
It also shows in the way in which Franzmann captures the teenage slang and banter perfectly. Too perfectly in some ways, for many of we older audience members took quite a while to tune in to the language!
But where her being a teacher shows most clearly is in the overall feel of the piece. In spite of the fact that it is superbly performed by the twelve-strong cast with tight and fast moving direction by Matthew Dunster, it does have the feel of Theatre in Education with the issues dominating, occasionally at the expense of character and plot.
The resolution is rather vague: although we do see some change in attitudes starting to occur, suddenly the problem is resolved - not quite in the style of "with one bound he was free" but getting pretty close - and the final incident really does come out of the blue, seemingly chosen for its shock value rather than as an inevitable consequence of the play's action.
But it is Franzmann's first play and it shows great promise for her future career as a playwright. For three quarters of the time, Mogadishu is character-led - and let's not go down the route of accusations of stereotyping in the portrayal of the teenagers: teenagers make themselves into stereotypes! - and it is inexperience in playwriting which leads to the lack of believability in the ending.
There are echoes of The Children's Hour and even The Winslow Boy, but Mogadishu is very much of its time and, given the superb cast, direction and creative team, its enthusiastic reception by audiences (particularly teen audiences) is totally understandable.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan