Back in 2010 there were two plays, which got me talking more than anything else on the stage. The first was the much loved Jerusalem, with Mark Rylance's phenomenal performance, the second, Mogadishu written by ex teacher Vivienne Franzmann was one of the most powerful and impactful shows to hit the London stage.
Mogadishu is one of those productions that will fuel your conversations for months; fiercely real, compelling, frustrating, funny and eye opening it is one of those shows you want everyone to see, just so you can talk about it with them afterwards. An accurate insight into modern day inner-city school life, it is a vivid account of what happens to a well-intentioned teacher who is suddenly accused of racially abusing a pupil. It has just picked up an Olivier Award nomination, and off the back of a UK tour, returns to the Lyric Hammersmith for one week only from the 27 March.
I caught up with Jackie Clune who is taking on the lead role of teacher Amanda. Jackie is the funny lady behind some of the best Smack The Pony sketches and has recently travelled the world playing Donna in the international tour of Mamma Mia. Mogadishu and its harsh reality is a world away from the spandex and Abba of Mamma Mia.
"Mogadishu is brilliant, it's a brilliant play and a brilliant part at my ripe old age those things are quite hard to come by especially in that combination. I loved the light entertainment of Mamma Mia, people really enjoyed that show, they were uplifted by it, it's like going to a spiritualist church or something, and that's important, but Mogadishu is more of an intellectual challenge and in someway is a life changing piece of theatre."
"I'm very passionate about theatre, and I think what Mogadishu shows is that theatre, can open a subject that resonates with people for a long time, and in a small way it's life changing because it makes you look at the world differently and question things. All theatre is, is people talking in a room in front of other people and when those conversations are important, that's as good as it gets."
"Apparently our version has a slightly harder edge and is a bit more uncompromising, but I never saw it originally so can't know. Going into Mamma Mia I'd seen the role before doing it and thought that looks like a lot of fun, for this I hadn't seen the play, but I had read it. Some people say don't ever watch anything you're going to do, you'll never get that performance out of your head. I've never had that problem I've got a massive ego and thought oh I can do that. Part of acting is being yourself, you can't leave yourself in the wings, so that affects the role."
So what drew you to wanting to play this role?
"It's a brilliantly written play. I went to uni in the 80s and became very left wing and idealistic and the character is a bit like that. It always makes me upset when people start liberal bashing, and saying, like after the riots oh just lock them all up, send them to the army, I can't stand that right wing knee jerk reaction to a complicated social issue. This play brilliantly shows just how complicated these arguments are, that's rare. It's very complex and realistic, it's not at all Disney-fied, it doesn't make the solutions easy, because they're not easy."
Her character Amanda has her flaws and I can clearly remember sitting in the theatre getting increasingly frustrated with her, can you feel that frustration flowing from an audience?
"Last night a woman came up to me after the play and said I just wanted to slap you and she was a university professor. I always balk slightly when people have that strong a reaction because I think her heart is in the right place. What's your answer? To send them all to jail, to give up on them, to exclude them all? The stats are that young black men excluded from school are something like 75% more likely to end up in jail. It's not as simple as sit on the naughty step forever, there has got to be another way. Amanda's way is idealistic and she doesn't do the right thing, but she's also let down by her support network. It's not all her fault. There is a moment in the play where there are audible gasps and that is her failing, she thinks good will prevail."
The great thing about Mogadishu is that they put on school performances, and offer cheap tickets. There's been a lot of press recently about the cost of theatre, but the opening night at the Lyric has all seats for just £12.50, and offers a great schools package for teachers to bring their classes. So how is it having so many teenagers watching?
"It's always really lovely when we get a big group of school kids in as they are very emotional at the end. I suppose it's rare that they see things, which don't patronise them and show their experience, as it really is, not sanataised in any way. It's changed me a little; it's made me more tolerant of my own kids and realise anger isn't the answer."
"I really like the Q&As after the shows with schools, teachers and students add their perspective, retired teachers express their shock and how things have change, and the young people who try to work out what the problem is, their answer is often very different to the teachers. Of one of the characters he said he's like that because his dad doesn't listen to him, and they are right, he doesn't. They connected because this is happening in their lives right now, they don't feel listened to and that's what resonates with them.:
"The play hits an audience on so many levels. Last night there was a group of boys from a school for boys who'd been excluded. The governor of the school brought them and said they were transfixed by it, and thinks it will have an affect on them when they get back to school. They were too shy to say anything in the Q&A, they wouldn't speak up as they're not used to having a voice."
There is something about Mogadishu that lives with you, which creates questions for which there are no answers, and opens your eyes to 21st century schooling. It's a piece of theatre, which deserves your attention, if only to fuel your conversations for the next few weeks.
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