Tuesday, May 28

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Sheffield Lyceum

Sheffield Lyceum opened its doors and its generational spanning heart to the adaptation of Onjali Q. Rauf’s well known and much loved book A Boy at the Back of the Class. Adapter Nick Ahad’s does not disappoint in his stage version, retaining all the wit, the power of a collective sense of humanity and the eternal hope we all deserve to experience. Monique Touko as Director strives to paint a desired world stating, ‘May this play push for further actions of kindness, promote equality and depict a world where people are seen as people’. Aimed at children, teachers and parents alike this production is a full, dynamic and impactful theatrical experience bringing the characters and their story to life.

The set and costume design by Lily Arnold creates the backdrop of a school setting with PE climbing bars that fluidly transform without hindrance into the other locations of the story – from Buckingham Palace to the local market and Alexa’s living room to the train station. The quick costume changes of the multi role playing cast are something to behold! The set is very much like a playground allowing the characters to tell the story, it is grounded yet has a dreamlike quality to it. Particularly effective is the tube train and the use of forestage to break down the fourth wall as we are finally able to hear and understand Ahmet’s story. Movement Director Kloe Dean adds a rich and fluent aspect to the production, with both storytelling and abstract emotive movement all layering beautifully to create the perfect audience response. Ryan Day’s lighting design and Giles Thomas’ Musical compositions and sound design skilfully lead the observers to fully engage and empathise with the story.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

The central protagonist and focus of the story is Ahmet (Farshid Rokey), a Kurdish Syrian boy who tells his story through the eyes of an innocent child caught in an impossible situation of fear, danger, death and misunderstanding. The story is very relevant in today’s times and as the global issues of unrest creep further West – we could all be Ahmet. The story is narrated by Ahmet’s new classmate Alexa (Sasha Desouza-Willock), a girl whose mother teaches her that kindness will defeat meanness. She is joined by her ‘A Team’ friends Michael (Abdul- Malik Janneh), Josie (Petra Joan- Athene) and Tom (Gordon Millar) as they go on a mission to reunite Ahmet with his lost family. The innocence of children who only see possibility and the power of what is right will overcome obstacles, guide the audience to question themselves and their own sense of perceived helplessness. The cast is completed by Priya Davdra as Mum and teacher Mrs Khan, Joe McNamara as ‘bully’ Brendan and various roles, Zoe Zak as Clarissa and various roles. Adam Seridji, Ryan Rajan Mal and Megan Grech complete the stellar cast, and all are vibrant and a strong united team on stage. They work hard with great energy to create different characters and locations and are very smooth in transition, creating a fast paced immersive experience that demands the attention of the audience. 

It was a delight to sit in a theatre filled with children, teachers and parents alike and see them fully engrossed in the story. The young people’s behaviour as a result was impeccable! A great starting point for the future of theatre goers. I left the theatre educated and questioning my own thoughts and actions (or lack of them) surrounding the worldwide refugee crisis. As Director Monique Touko says ‘Every person, big or small can make a change’.

A Boy at the Back of the Class is at Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 9th March 2024, I really would advise you to go and see this play… Spanning the generations, it really is a dynamically told story that is emotively thought provoking. https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/the-boy-at-the-back-of-the-class

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 5th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.