The Inspectors Call

The Inspectors Call by Peter Campling. Theatro Technis in Camden, London, until May 16

The Inspectors Call artfully portrays a school heading towards crisis. Its head, George Smith, is passionate about making his pupils’ lives better – but the truth is that he and his urban comprehensive have seen better days.

George has taken up yoga, but he needs more than that to help him handle a ghastly build-up of “challenges”. He has sacked his homophobic, creationist science teacher, who then threatened the school with the “wrath of God” at the last appeal.

A year 7 mum wants to discuss the transition curriculum and he keeps being told his maths results need to improve. His list of concerns continues to grow as the academy chains circle and a new free school opens down the road. His personal life is looking pretty shaky too – his wife is off with her new man. Ominously, he thinks he has the support of the governors. Can things get any worse?

Hell, yes. The call from the inspectors that George spends every day anticipating and ruminating about finally comes. The inspectors are on the way…

Written by former headteacher and ASCL council member Peter Campling, it is a funny and entertaining production that has just received a nomination for Best New Play in the Offies, the Off West End theatre awards.

But it is also unflinching as it draws us into the concerns of the head and his staff. They are – albeit with a range of motivations – doing their best as a community for pupils in a down-at-heel setting. We’re given a clear sense of the real difficulties this school faces.

The writer’s long career as a teacher and a school leader has left him well placed to convey how easy it is for national politics and shifting policies to mess life up for schools. But he and the talented theatre company, No Notice Productions, successfully present the passion and the small glories that light up schools across the country every day.

The play addresses some fundamental questions, including what is education really for? Have schools, as George says, turned into exam factories with high staff burnout?

Is one student’s poor attendance and predicted three GCSEs a failure of the school – or an achievement? Is her beautiful singing – “she’d not sung a note before she came to this school” George says – worth anything to the inspectors?

The actors work beautifully as an ensemble. Joe Cushley as George is brilliant at showing a battered, sometimes cynical but always committed head who
really cares about all his pupils. Penelope Diamond is excellent as the director of children’s services. Gbolahan Obisesan stands out as Winston. Gary Merry’s direction is first rate too.

On this stage the stories are truly personal. Each character is brought vividly to life and every word has the ring of truth. The message is passionately political. Highly recommended.

For tickets go to www.theinspectorscall.co.uk/