S.E.N. stands for Special Educational Needs; it's an awkward, provocative title for an area that schools often mismanage. Call it what you will; if there is poor provision for S.E.N., then shit happens. I know this because I worked for 8 years in a comprehensive in South East London, so the world of the play is familiar to me – or would have been, except that my time in SE9 was before both digital whiteboards and talk of jihad.
Two fifteen-year-old girls are out of class for an hour’s ‘Intervention’ because their behaviour has been giving cause for concern. Aalia is from a British-Pakistani family and wears the hijab; you might think her presence in ‘Intervention’ is a mistake, but you won't hold that opinion for very long. Taylor is White British, and throws her bronzer and her mouth at anything that moves. Their teacher is young, is floppy-haired, arrives slightly late and – without a shred of doubt – is going to have an absolutely horrible time. “Why waste your shiny 2:1 on us?” is just an opener.
The script is tight and unrelenting, and you might say that the action is disgraceful. Sometimes, in fact, it appals. Teacher stands in the middle, and gets it from both sides – but not immediately. Taylor goes for Aalia first; Sir doesn’t stand a chance. Humility, respect and empathy, ‘essential competencies’ of a good teacher, leave him defenceless here.
Olivia Duffin plays Taylor like a grotesque nymphette, complete with bag of Jelly Tots. Akila Cristiano is the pernicious Aalia, and Wesley Lineham’s Teacher suffers admirably, stupidly, to breaking point. His trust in his flash-cards, asking ‘What would you do if…’, and the girls’ incredulous replies made me weep with both laughter and professional embarrassment.
S.E.N. is loud and vulgar, and of course it is beyond belief. Writer/Director Holly McKinlay has spiked the sweet sentimentality of To Sir, With Love and replaced Lulu on the soundtrack with Motorhead. So in red ink at the end of this review, this ex-teacher writes: 8/10 Well done!