🎭 The Boy at the Back of the Class
📍Rose Theatre
🎟️ PR invite

Onjali Raúf’’s award-winning children’s novel into a stage adaptation, The Boy at the Back of the Class makes its world premiere with a timely and moving story that resonates deeply.

The story

The story follows the journey of Ahmet, a nine-year-old boy fleeing a war-torn Syria who finds himself in a British school, separated from his parents. Ahmet sits in the empty chair at the back of the Year 5 class. He’s quiet and doesn’t speak fluent English, leaving the other children intrigued to know more about him. They invite Ahmet to play football, share Sherbet Lemon sweets and even write down questions to ask. 

When Ahmet’s classmate, Alexa, overhears some of the parents making rude comments about refugees and rejoicing over the country ‘closing the borders’, she and her friends, Josie, Michael and Tom, embark on a daring mission to reunite Ahmet with his family before times runs out. 

Narrated from the children’s perspective, we go on a funny, unexpected and heartwarming adventure. The Boy at the Back of the Class strikes the right balance between humour and heart and exemplifies the importance of friendship, kindness and hope. 

Photo by Manuel Harlan.

My thoughts

Adapted for the stage by Nick Ahad, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a timely and moving piece of theatre. Its powerful message resonates with audiences of all ages, reminding us of the profound impact of compassion in a world often divided by prejudices. The narrative being told from the nine-year-old’s point of view is a brilliant and engaging style of storytelling. We learn about the struggles Ahmet faced and the attitude towards refugees from his peers, teachers, and even the media. 

Farshid Rokey is strong in the role of Ahmet, as he embodies the apprehensive nature of a child adjusting to a new environment. Sasha Desouza-Willock wonderfully plays Alexa with inquisitiveness and confidence to help Ahmet. She is supported by Josie, Michael and Tom (Petra Joan-Athene, Abdul-Malik Janneh, Gordon Millar) as they prepare for their ‘A-Team’ style mission (ironically to the theme of 007!). 

Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Ryan Day and Giles Thomas’ lighting and sound design are slick and perfectly timed. Although I haven’t read the book, I imagine these creative choices have accurately brought the story to life, elevating this stage production even more. What I enjoyed is how the show encourages us to use our imagination. Monique Touko expertly directs the show, with playfulness and a captivating energy that immerses us in the children’s world. Paired with Kloé Dean’s movement direction, which sees the characters running around, doing roly poly’s and swinging off the set.

Lily Arnold’s set design cleverly mimics local landmarks and everyday British school scenes, creating a sense of familiarity and even nostalgia (the school apparatus!). The versatile set allows for seamless scene transitions too, transporting us from one location to another. I was also impressed with how the production incorporated basic props to elevate and portray certain scenes.

Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Similarly, there are strong performances from the ensemble as they flawlessly transition between characters; from children to parents to market sellers to even the Queen’s Guards. The talented cast performs an array of distinct, hilarious and diverse characters, who all play a part in Ahmet’s journey. While there was some hostility from the bullies at school and bigoted parents, there were also members of the community who showed care and willingness to support. These examples of empathy and solidarity are echoed throughout.

The show highlights the humanity of refugees through the character of Ahmet. His new friends realise they hold shared interests such as football and favourite foods, just like them. Between adventure and humour, lies a beautiful and important story – it’s hard not to get emotional! The determination and courage of the young characters, using their voices to support Ahmet is incredibly inspiring.

Photo by Manuel Harlan.

As part of Rose Theatre’s collaboration with the Children’s Theatre Partnership, the production is a powerful in raising awareness and engaging children in discussions of refugee rights.

The Boy at the Back of the Class encourages us to practice kindness and embrace differences. The show is for audiences of all ages and comes at a time when compassion is needed more than ever. It serves as a necessary reminder that everyone deserves a home. 

The Boy at the Back of the Class plays at Rose Theatre until 22 February 2024 before continuing on tour.