Years ago I read Jamila Gavin’s excellent book Coram Boy, and I was sad to miss out on the National Theatre’s acclaimed adaptation by Helen Edmundson. I was excited to discover that the RCSSD in Hampstead were putting on a production.
The background to the story is the Foundling Hospital established in 1939 by Thomas Coram, which took in thousands of orphaned and abandoned babies. The play makes reference to several real-life practices, including the lottery: women hoping to leave their babies would select a ball from a bag. If the ball was white, their child was taken in; if it was black, the baby had to be taken away.
Gavin’s book – and Edmundson’s play – is an epic tale of one particular foundling, Aaron. It looks at how his parents met and came to give up the boy, and Aaron’s experiences in the foundling hospital before being reunited with his family. The tale spans several years and the complex plot, which worked very well in the novel, wasn’t quite as successful in the play. The running time was pretty epic and it wasn’t always possible to see how the disparate characters fit together. Sometimes it seemed a bit slow and a tad confusing.
Having said that, the performances of the students from RCSSD were superb. Many of them had more than one part to play and they coped with this admirably. I particularly liked Jenni Mackenzie-Jones, who lent an appealing innocence to Aaron, and Keziah Joseph, who played her friend Toby as well as another character, Miss Price. Lucas Button’s sympathetic portrayal of the character of Meshak/Mish was also strong. The staging was intimate and clever, and the production as a whole a fine one.
Directed by Catherine Alexander, this was an absorbing and well-performed show that is a credit to students at RCSSD.