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The Boy at the Back of the Class


The cast of The Boy at the Back of the Class. Photo courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre.


The Boy at The Back Of The Class, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, running from 14 – 18 May 2024.

Review by Annette Kinsella.

 

Refugee schoolboy's story shows light at the end of the tunnel. 

 

We live in dark days indeed. Every day there are headlines and news stories about the threat of the small boats making their way across the channel filled with refugees seeking sanctuary and hopeful for a better life. The issue of asylum, always a political football, is kicked around more ferociously than ever, seen as a vote winner or a moral panic spinner.


It is real-life football that plays a major part in the adaptation of The Boy At The Back Of The Class, currently at the Belgrade Theatre. Based on the book of the same name, the story centres on refugee Ahmet (Farshid Rokey), arriving in an inner-city London school with no English and no family, who finds connection with the ebullient Year 5 A Team gang through a mutual love of the beautiful game.


Farshid Rokey as Ahmed. Photo courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre.


It's not all plain sailing. In fact, as analogies go, Ahmed’s life is less a rowboat on the river and more an airbed battling the Atlantic. Not only must he contend with racist bully Brendan, played adeptly by Joe McNamara, but as we gradually learn of his backstory, from his escape from Syria over the mountains, to the death of his sister in the sea and estrangement from his parents, we understand exactly what fate throws at refuges. The production comes into its own as Ahmed’s journey is related – billowing blue sheets become the crashing waves of the English channel, spotlights are transformed into harsh border control search beams, an illuminated school gym hoop shines out as the full moon over the sea.



Priya Davdra and Petra Joan-Athene. Photo courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre.


The story veers on fantastical, only to be expected from a children’s story– in a bid to successfully unite Ahmed and his family, best friends Alexa (Sasha Desouza-Willock), Josie (Petra Joan-Athene), Michael (Abdul-Malik Janneh) and Tom (Gordon Millar) enlist the help of a friendly taxi driver, two Coldstream Guards and the late Queen Elizabeth herself. The feel-good factor was welcomed by the young audience who greeted the news of Ahmed’s parents’ successful asylum application with enthusiastic  cheers.



Gordon Millar, Petra Joan-Athene, Sasha Desouza-Willock and Abdul-Malik Janneh. Photo courtesy of Belgrade Theatre.


Despite this, director Nick Ahad does not veer from tough issues – parents at the school gates are voracious in their opposition to asylum seekers in the classroom, Alexa freely admits the Prime Minister won’t help Ahmet as ‘it's his government that makes the rules’. But ultimately kindness and compassion win through, leaving us hopeful that even in these murky political times, humanity can provide enough light to see us through the darkness.

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