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Published by: OLIVER VALENTINE on 14th Mar 2011 | View all blogs by OLIVER VALENTINE

Death Of A Nightingale is a thought provoking play that questions the government policy of closing special schools in favour of sending their pupils to mainstream institutions.

Alan Share’s play offers a passionate defence of special schools and challenges the validity of  government policy for inclusion. Share was a governor of a special school in NE England between 1988 and 2004, and helped it’s parents fight against the school’s closure. During this time 100 other special schools were closed, and Share’s play is based on what he documented. Death Of A Nightingale is a fictional story of the attempt to close Brighouse School. It looks at the complexities of the issue, and argues that parents of special needs children should be able to choose between mainstream and special schools. Share states that the scales are weighted against special needs children in mainstream schools, and highlights that attempted suicides by SEN children are high in mainstream education due to bullying and an inability to keep up academically. 

Share’s play is a mixed bag. The quality of writing although generally very good, lacks consistency. Some scenes (especially the school closure decision scenes), are extremely well written, while others meander. The music scenes are far too repetitive, and the main one involving every religion seems to go on forever.

However the main problem with this production is the pedestrian direction by Tom Scott. Even the exceptionally talented cast are unable to drag this play out of first gear due a lack of imaginative leadership. The pace is not helped between scenes by the tedious and unnecessary repeated moving of chairs from one side of the set to the other, and the bringing on and off of props

What holds things together are the strong performances. Melanie Ramsey is superb as Head teacher Margaret Williamson, and is well supported by her on stage partner Ian Targett as John Errington.  Pupils from Oak Lodge special school in East Finchley act along the professionals, and Max Lewis plays the part of mischievous student Terry to perfection.

The timing of Share’s play aligns well with new developments about the ongoing debate around the provision of special schools. A Green Paper on SEN may now offer parents a real choice of schools for their children and make Share’s play a little redundant. Not that Share would mind, that is what his play argues for after all.

In these times of cutbacks where vital services now seem especially vulnerable, Death Of A Nightingale offers a stimulating night of theatre that is as relevant as it is moving.

OLIVER VALENTINE                                                               

                                        Run until 3rd April. Box Office: 08700332733





    by ALAN SHARE 7 years ago
    Oliver Valentine sees fit to criticise Tom Scott's direction of my play Death of a Nightingale, describing his production as "pedestrian" and finding fault with his scene changes. He clearly did not appreciate that Tom had just over four weeks to show me how to cut the play by a third in length making it a much better play, finding a brilliant cast including pupils from Oak Lodge Special School and rehearsing them - not easy, and bringing the whole to the New End Theatre. A miracle man. And so far 14 scene changes on a small stage without a curtain, did he really want the whole action to take place on Japanese Tatami mats? Alan Share
    by ALAN SHARE 7 years ago
    I am uncharitable. Oliver Valentine at least turned up, and said a good word or two for the play and its actors. Despite the topicality of the of the play in the context of the Government's Green Paper and the involvement of pupils with special needs alongside professional actors The Times, Times Educational Supplement, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, the Express, the Evening Standard and Ham & Hi were all absent from Press Night. Sarah Ebner of Times-on-line, who I met on Twitter, did come to prove there actually was a Press Night. Alan Share
    by ALAN SHARE 7 years ago
    Oh, I almost forgot. A Guardian reporter left at the interval, but Death of a Nightingale scheduled to start at 7.30pm could not start before 7.45pm because the New End Theatre scheduled 74 Georgia Avenue to start at 6.45pm and this did not end until 7.25pm. Of course this may have influenced Tom's scene setting and choice of props. Oliver Valentine might not have realised that either. Alan Share
    by ALAN SHARE 7 years ago
    PS Kerra Maddern gave a full page to the Rehearsed Reading of Death of a Nightingale at the New End Theatre in November 2009.
    Two full boxes of undelivered flyers under the stairs the New End Theatre and none where you would expect them, and an incompetent telephone booking system.
    Is there something here I do not understand? Maybe the world has just gone bonkers.Alan Share
    by ALAN SHARE 7 years ago
    While I am writing here I should give you my response to this: "The music scenes are far too repetitive, and the main one involving every religion seems to go on forever." The music lesson looks at faith through prism of music and at two issues: Terry v Emma - Is there a God and,if so, why didn't God stop the killing in the Holocaust? and Paul Robeson at Peekskill - Must God be a tribal God in a Global Age? The issues will go on for ever. Maybe Oliver Valentine didn't quite get this. Alan Share
    by OLIVER VALENTINE 7 years ago
    Hi Alan,

    I felt your unwarranted comments needed answering.
    Firstly I write my objective professional opinion. It is not a personal attack, and not
    meant to be agreed with by everyone. Indeed I would be disturbed if
    this was the case.
    Despite your condescending comment, I perfectly 'got' the music scenes. I crit the repetition because they added little to the progress of the drama. From the first scene the teacher's message was clear, and lost it's power and impact by
    repetition. Less is more - if u really want to get a message across
    Secondly 4 weeks is more than enough time for an
    experienced dir like to Mr. Scott to get a play together. Professional
    (and unpaid fringe), companies do it all the time.
    As I said in the review, the pupils from Oak Lodge Special School were brilliant.
    Quite frankly I found your response astounding. It was quite personalised and
    a little childish. It is interesting that u focused on the crits rather
    than all the positive comments I made, which made up the majority of
    the writing.
    The Guardian reviewer was not the only one to fail to
    write a crit. My companion that night was also a reviewer, and decided that
    as he would find it hard to write anything terribly constructive about
    the play he would write nothing.
    He felt that despite a lovely performance by the main young actress, that u had made her character too self-pitying and 'Disneyfied,' to be real. He also understood that while your play might be didactic it was also occasionally patronising
    with the subject matter, and also to the audience.
    I know that was not your intention.
    U r in the professional world of theatre now and it is
    not easy. As they say in showbiz 'everyone's a critic.'

    All THE BEST

  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 7 years ago
    A dramatist needs to get used to the idea that his or her work might be criticized once put on stage. Nobody in the (paying) audience cares whether there were problems editing the play or a lack of rehearsal time. The end product counts. I thought Oliver Valentine's review was very fair. He tried to emphasize the good points.

    Carolin Kopplin
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