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Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann at Manchester Royal Exchange

Published by: Caroline May on 3rd Feb 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Vivienne Franzmann was a joint winner of the 2009 Bruntwood playwriting competition, and her winning script Mogadishu is now being premiered in the Royal Exchange’s main house.

In contrast with the exotic title (a fleeting reference to middle-class teenage gap years) the setting is a present-day inner-city school where a black schoolboy’s assault on a white female teacher becomes bizarrely twisted into an allegation of violence and racism by her on him.  

Mogadishu is part examination of the downside of political correctness (cf David Edgar’s 2008 Testing the Echo, coincidentally also directed by Matthew Dunster), and part illustration of the devastating consequences when a lie gets out of control (also themes in The Children’s Hour and The Crucible).  However because the playwright’s intentions are entirely invested in exonerating the teacher there is never any ambiguity in the drama (the events are clearly laid out in the first scene), and while the tragic back-stories flesh out the characters and provide some moments of tension they don’t raise the overall stakes.  

I might have felt more emotionally involved if Vivienne Franzmann’s central character, the supposedly experienced, dedicated and savvy teacher Amanda, hadn’t been the least believable character on stage.  Even when played with as much conviction as an excellent actor like Julia Ford can muster, Amanda’s naivety, credulity and apparent unfamiliarity with school, local authority and child protection procedures beggar belief.

However I have nothing but praise for Matthew Dunster’s fast-paced and spirited production, and the acting is universally brilliant.  The versatile Ian Bartholomew excels yet again as a harassed, crumpled, spiritually beige head-teacher, while Fraser James and Christian Dixon are sympathetic as parents of difficult adolescents.

However the evening is stolen by the school children, a group of diverse, recognisable and memorable characters that would do credit to Shakespeare.  Malachi Kirby is mesmerising as Jason, the confused, vulnerable and seemingly amoral man-child, easily switching between chilling school bully and browbeaten son.  The comically nerdy Firat (Michael Karim) and passionate goth Becky (Shannon Tarbet) are also fine, contrasting well with Jason’s streetwise and cynical gang (Farshid Rokey, Tendayi Jembere, Tara Hodge, Savannah Gordon-Liburd and Hammed Animashaun).

Tom Scutt’s design of a revolving stage encircled by a high mesh cage is a massive sight-line problem if you’re not watching from the gods, and the whole-scale switching of sets between scenes (something of a Dunster trademark) is a distraction, but while Mogadishu is not an especially thought-provoking or revealing play it is still a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.


Mogadishu is on until Saturday 19 February 2011

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30pm; Sats @ 8pm

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm; Sats @ 4pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833




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