To Sir With Love – Orchard Theatre

EMMA DEWHURST, editor of WOW magazine, reviews ‘TO SIR WITH LOVE’, starring Matthew Kelly and RSC actor Ansu Kabia, at the Orchard Theatre Dartford until Saturday 30th November.


There are two nights left to see this terrific touring production of ‘To Sir With Love’ at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. It’s well worth the trip: this is an energetic, fast-paced and finely acted evening set in the austerity years of post-war forties Britain, and touches on issues which are just as relevant today. Above all, this is an evening of first-class, good old fashioned storytelling, with a satisfying ride made more appealing by the fact that the story is based on truth.

The piece is skilfully adapted by ‘East by East’ writer Ayub Khan Din from the novel by E R Braithwaite about his post-war experiences as a first-time teacher in a progressive East End secondary school run by radical thinker Alex Bloom – Mr Florian in the stage play, flawlessly played by Matthew Kelly. Braithwaite was a British Guyanan who studied physics at Cambridge University and served as a fighter pilot in the RAF during the War. He applied to the school having failed to secure an engineering job due to the colour of his skin.

You may remember Sidney Poitier as Braithwaite in the famous 60s film of the same name. This stage production has brought the action back to the late 40s, highlighting the issues of racial tension common to the East End at the time. RSC actor Ansu Kabia does a great job of bringing us with him on his journey to realise that the only way to persuade the children in his care to listen to him is by getting to know them, encouraging mutual respect and care. We are also privy to his budding relationship with fellow teacher Gillian, sympathetically played by Peta Cornish, a white middle-class girl who never imagined it would be so hard to date a black man.

Artistic Director of Hull Truck Theatre, Mark Babych, directs with a tight rein which does much to give the production its muscle, with particular mention going to the nippy scene changes and movement moments like the scene on the bus choreographed by Nick Winston. Strong support is given by Nicola Reynolds as compassionate fellow teacher Clinty, and to Paul Kemp as Weston, Braithwaite’s nemesis who finally and satisfyingly turns. The younger cast members playing the school children do much to keep energy levels high, with spirited performances from Harriet Ballard, Heather Nicol and Mykola Allen, and Kerron Darby as the mixed race boy Seales.

It is heartening that this co-production from the Touring Consortium Theatre and Royal Theatre & Derngate Northampton comes to Dartford as the result of an audience survey which proved that the people of Dartford wanted more drama. The second (of three) offerings from the Consortium, of which Matthew Kelly is patron, is ‘Brassed Off’, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike. The production comes to the Orchard in April starring John McArdle as Danny and the Medway Towns Band performing the final scene.

Remind yourself what a fine night out at the theatre is like and go to see these shows.

TO SIR WITH LOVE by E R Braithwaite

adapted by Ayub Khan Din

Starring Matthew Kelly and Ansu Kabia

Orchard Theatre, Home Gardens, Dartford DA1 1ED

Dartford is just 30 minutes away from Medway by train and the theatre is a minute from the station Tel: 01322 220000

Friday 29th and Saturday 30th November, 7.30pm with a matinee and audio described performance on Sat 30th at 2.30pm

Tickets £10 – 24* £1.50 booking fee

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