Tony Craze Award shortlisted writer and playwright Daniel Rusteau’s debut play Dismissed directed by Nikhil Vyas and produced by The Upsetters, an anti-racist theatre company, is about the knife crime epidemic in UK secondary schools.
The play focuses on the adult perspective, the protagonist of the play being a young teacher trying to save her student from expulsion for bringing a hunting knife to school. The other characters in the play are the headteacher, two other teachers at school and the student’s mother. Exploring this important topic through the perspectives of adults from various race and class backgrounds helps illustrate a picture of a deeper problem of class and racism in the UK education system, and raises questions about the way young Black men are taught about masculinity.
On the other hand, I was in two minds about the main figures of the play, the teenage boys at the school, not having a presence on stage. The character of Ashley, the young teacher, is an emotionally strong representation of the topic, and Georgia-Mae Myers’s performance was effective and touching. However, it would have been easier to connect with the topic, as well as have an additional first-hand perspective on the problem, if the character of Tyler, the child caught with the knife, was portrayed on stage and we heard his experience from his mouth rather than speculations and second-hand accounts.
I am a fan of how the role of educators is represented. While Ashley is underestimated and seems too idealistic because she is young, she perfectly captures how teachers are supposed to guide and act as a moral compass for these young people trying to understand their place in society and not just be a person giving them information on a singular subject.
Society grew unsensitised towards the knife crime news, even those with young boys involved, dismissing them as ‘just another gang violence’. Unfortunately, some privileged members of society even grow more racist in the name of self-preservation. Dismissed depicts society’s focus on the problem rather than the solution, and how quick people can be in judgement and execution without questioning the root of the problem.
While this is a play focusing on the problem of violence, I highly appreciate violence only being a part of the narration and not the performance. Rebecca Crankshaw, who portrayed Headteacher Susan, has a powerful and poignant anecdote about knife crimes among the students and that is much more effective in conveying the level of violence than physical performance.
I have always been a huge fan of education through arts and this is yet another crucial problem in our society that needs more awareness. Therefore, I would recommend dedicating 75 minutes of your time to hear what the team of Dismissed has to say.
Dismissed will be performed at Soho Theatre until 3 June. Get your tickets here. Can’t make it? Don’t worry, Dismissed is optioned by Headline Pictures to be made into a feature film. Keep an eye out for the news.