'Thought-provoking and tragic piece of theatre' in the Barn's studio space

Howard Salinger as Brian, Alex Ryde as Mr McCafferty, and Tammy Wall as Donna in the Barn Theatre's production of Class.

Howard Salinger as Brian, Alex Ryde as Mr McCafferty, and Tammy Wall as Donna in the Barn Theatre's production of Class.

Class, originally presented as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2017, is a hard-hitting, subtle exploration of privilege which carefully avoids providing easy answers.

Its short run in the Barn’s small studio served as a stark reminder of the potential this intimate space offers.

Brian and Donna’s son, Jayden, is nine years old and struggling at school in Dublin, according to his teacher, Mr McCafferty. The parents – recently separated – have been called to a meeting to discuss Jayden’s suspected learning difficulties.

What begins as a straightforward teacher-parent conversation rapidly transforms into something else entirely.

Brian and Donna’s dying relationship is clearly dominating both characters’ thoughts, while Mr McCafferty’s status as middle-class authority figure leads to an uncomfortable power dynamic between the trio.  

Howard Salinger is assured in his portrayal of Brian, an ultimately affable father who is always slightly on the defensive.

His occasional eruptions into anger are convincing; a character sadly unable to shake his hot-headed tendencies despite his laudable efforts, such as attending therapy.

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Brian’s descent from awkward parent-teacher banter at the play’s opening to a nigh on complete loss of control is paced brilliantly and performed impeccably. 

Tammy Wall brings the requisite energy to the bubbly and chatty Donna, interspersing moments of real comedy with a growing sense of desperation and sadness.

Alex Ryde puts in a refined performance in the role of Mr McCafferty. The character is amiable from the offset, yet one becomes increasingly aware of his middle-class privilege and disconnect from the parents and teachers he encounters in this evidently deprived part of Dublin.

The play, crucially, avoids heavy-handed, prescriptive negative characterisation. Mr McCafferty makes several misguided decisions, yet the overriding sense is that of a good man who has been jaded and manipulated by a confusing, opaque education system that too often abandons those it is supposed to aid.

With subtly raised societal questions left deliberately unanswered, we are left with a thought-provoking, tragic piece of theatre. 

The Barn’s studio space is perfect for this play, evoking a primary school setting to an almost unsettling extent – indeed, I hear rumblings it’s often used as a teaching space for children.

I watched this play via Zoom, from the glorious slight discomfort of my own sofa. The play was ably directed, with a three-camera setup used. All three characters were nigh on always in shot, ensuring I never once felt I was missing background characterisation or action.

Class is a fantastically written play and a great example of why the Barn’s studio space is so needed.

This small-cast, understated piece may have felt somewhat dwarfed by the Barn’s main stage; yet, in an intimate space, it shone.

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