It’s a late Friday afternoon and Polly is packing her things before she starts her PhD. Her time as headteacher has been enjoyable, but it is time to leave the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) – an alternative to mainstream education for those unable to attend through exclusion, illness or otherwise – and form a thesis around her experiences. Her pupil, Bailey, is desperate for a referral to live somewhere other than her Auntie’s house, but the laptop charger is missing and classmate Ryan isn’t doing anything to help.
A real-time account of the injustices in our education system
Marika Mckennell’s script has a strong feeling of authenticity, drawn largely from her own work in PRUs. Where her success lies is in her ability to present a play that does not feel theatrical – instead, opting for a fly-on-the-wall approach without the embellished and unnecessary flairs of showmanship. E8 is a real-time account of the injustices in our education system, placing a harrowing spotlight onto the people it fails.
Alice Vilanculo gives a stand-out performance as Bailey, portraying her with a troubled conviction. She is trapped by her circumstances and very much lost within the system, with any cries for help soon absorbed into the institutionalised and underfunded machine of the local authorities. Though living with her abusive Auntie is less than appropriate, social services decide to intervene by informing her Auntie of the concerns and promptly deciding it may continue. They make the mess, but leave before the clean-up.
Small moments of situational humour break the heaviness, particularly evident in Bailey’s relationship with Ryan. He remains an unexplored figure within the production, keeping himself to himself but clearly nursing a troubled past. It is an interesting writing technique to make the audience work for its character development, but one that adds to the realistic portrayal of an educational environment. You don’t get given a detailed character breakdown in real-life, so why should you for this?
A rich and accurate depiction of a system usually hidden from the public eye, E8 gives a platform to those lost within the cavernous belly of state care.