Back to School

Fri 10th – Sun 26th August 2012


Rivkah Brown

at 21:01 on 21st Aug 2012



There are no words for ‘Back to School’. Or at least, there were no words written in my notebook when I left Dumbiedykes Secondary School, where I had spent the past hour and a half of my life not, as I had anticipated, sitting quietly in a dark room scribbling notes whilst being acted at, but studying quantum physics, practising yoga and attending my own Year 13 graduation. I’m not sure the Daily Record’s award of ‘No. 1 Wacky Show’ quite covers it; out-of-body experience, perhaps.

The point at which fiction begins to bleed in reality occurs very early on in your audience member life cycle. It is as you are unsuspectingly collecting tickets that friendly lollipop lady-cum-canteen supervisor, Miss Osilewe, leads you and your fellow victims in a sort of walking bus to the venue, leaving your dignity safely back in the Pleasance Courtyard. On our way to the slaughter, one particularly lamb-like woman who introduced herself as Mary said to me hopefully, "I hope this show doesn’t involve too much audience participation". Oh, Mary.

Sure enough, upon arriving at the school we are greeted by Mr. McIntosh, the smiling yet strict teacher to our imaginatively-named class, Apollo. What alarms me most about the whole masquerade is how readily the other audience members (students? volunteers? hostages?) are willing to go along with it. Doing so is easy enough, as the whole act is so thoroughly convincing: I found myself apologising when a note was confiscated in class, as the eleven-year-old terror of teacherly punishment came rushing back to me like muscle memory.

There is even, dare I admit it, a strange comfort in being back in those tiny, uncomfortable plastic chairs, listening to one’s headteacher boast about their achievements, and use slang inappropriately. There is almost a feeling of security as a dozen people of your own age assume loco parentis and you half believe it. It is uncanny how even in the space of ninety minutes, people relax back into the same secondary school roles: the class clown, the teacher’s pet, the misunderstood teenager.

Reinforcing these stereotypes are a host of ‘students’, including, in my ‘class’ (for indeed the audience was divided into classes, rendering a definitive review of the show almost impossible), Suky Goodfellow. Suky was kind enough to daub my eyes (and in fact most of the rest of my face) with a garish pink eyeshadow, which, to my horror, I forgot to remove for the rest of the day.

‘Back to School’ is so bizarrely and perpetually in character that even the show’s website does not reveal the real names of its cast. I had also assumed that the school’s name must be a spoof - but no, it takes its name from the road where the venue is situated. It is at this point that I begin to ask myself whether in fact there is any reality beyond Dumbiedykes, that perhaps these are in fact their real names, and that potentially, during the last hour and a half, I genuinely have been sent back to school.


Jenni Reid

at 03:32 on 22nd Aug 2012



‘Back to School’ is the only production I have ever attended which has had me laughing before I even reached the venue. From the moment the audience is led single-file by the charming lollipop lady Miss. Osilewe from the Pleasance Courtyard to Saint Dumbiedykes, our school for the next hour and a half (or rather, five years), we are treated as nothing other than a group of school children. The resulting experience is quite something, and will stick with you long after you leave the Edinburgh Festival.

The Braidwood Community Centre has been transformed into an Edinburgh state school with meticulous attention to detail, from the posters and graffiti crowding the walls to the mad science teacher’s bedroom in a cupboard under the stairs. Even the headmistress’s office, which only a select few even get to see, is fully adorned with pictures, cuddly toys and a silently typing receptionist. Without revealing too much since the joy of the show is in the surprise, your time at Saint Dumbiedykes is essentially spent living out a condensed and bizarre version of your school career, from the first day of year seven nervously singing the school song in assembly to final year exams and graduation. Most of it rings almost painfully true to real life, and the whole thing is extremely cleverly constructed – except I don’t remember ever performing a cheerleading routine during lunch break in front of a group of adults queuing up at the tuck shop.

The whole building is packed with things to do and experiences to be had. Audience members are given a structured timetable, yet it is possible for all to have a totally unique experience. You might become music prefect, or recite an inspiring message in school assembly, or be made to wear a sign around your neck pronouncing: ‘Oxbridge Candidate, Hands Off’. Not once did any of the performers – teachers or students – come close to breaking character; which was not so much impressive because they were doing any sort of magnificent acting, but because there is something extremely disconcerting about having a one-on-one conversation with someone who gives absolutely nothing away to indicate the absurdity of the situation. The illusion even extends to the show’s own website, which only just about gives away the fact that this really is part of the Edinburgh Festival and not just a very eccentric school we happened to stumble upon.

This is not one for the theatregoer who shrinks to the back of their seat at the mere mention of audience participation. That being said, it is possible to get as much or as little involved with things as you like, although you get the feeling that the actors appreciate those who throw themselves into it. The best thing to do is go in with a little confidence and relive or reinvent your days as rebellious schoolchild or class swot. This show has been awarded the Fringe's 'No. 1 Wacky Show’ for a reason, and is surely one of the most inventive pieces you will see. It is tremendously entertaining, and might even leave you wondering why all the other shows make you sit and watch for an hour when getting involved yourself is so much more fun.


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