This article is from 2008.
Haris Pasovic’s production of Class Enemy for Bosnian company East West retains the central theme of Nigel Williams’ 1978 play - the desperate need for nurturing among young people neglected by an under-funded education system - to powerful effect. Yet, other than this theme, too much has been changed to fully do justice to the play’s elegant structure.
Meet Iron (Amar Selimovic), a hard-faced bullying nihilist in a neglected high school classroom who, in the absence of a teaching staff scared off by the behaviour of this zoo class, intimidates his peers into giving lessons of their own. These move from sex to gardening to how to make pies, and on to the social effects that these Sarajevo kids have experienced as a result of the recent war.
Much of Williams’ text transfers surprisingly well from its original South London context to Sarajevo. A tirade by one of the original characters about the black population that surrounds him, in which he betrays his own empty bigotry and violence, is adapted neatly to a complaint about the Serbs who live among these mainly Bosnian Muslim kids whom ‘even Allah has turned his back on’.
But several gender changes alter the dynamic of the production, and the narrative trajectory of the piece is affected, to the point where a different, and rather dramatically vulgar ending is added.
There are compensations: some speeches being turned nicely into rap, and some terrific physical language conveys the anger of these young people. The performances are generally strong too. Yet, some heavy-handed illustrations of the nihilism of these students are not necessary, and ultimately work to the detriment of a potentially much stronger production.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, until 23 Aug, 8pm, £10-£25.