How The World Began at Arcola Theatree

An edited version of this review was written for Spoonfed, London Theatre:

Susan, a teacher from New York sets up camp in a small tornado-hit town where the people’s history with disaster gives them a reason to hold on to their belief in something greater than themselves. So when she makes an absent-minded remark about religion during a biology class, she stirs a deep seated frustration with people who belittle belief in God.

In Caroline Trieschmann’s play we only hear from one bright but traumatised student called Micah, played with a fantastically creepy intensity by Perry Millward. But her script makes us acutely aware of the gathering voices of fear in the debate. This is one of the many strengths of Trieschmann’s script. She creates a whole, opinionated community with only three people in her cast. She also masters their voices perfectly. Teacher Susan is matter-of-fact, earnest but inexperienced and her students have their own acute sense of right and wrong. As she stumbles over her words becoming increasingly aware of her status as an outsider in this community and is matched with sharp, straight-talking Micah. But what hits home is the idea of propriety, what should and should not be said in the classroom and how much this should reflect the pupils who make up that classroom.

It says a lot that in Susan and Micah never really engage in the god debate. Neither try to prove their beliefs but Treischmann’s script insists that the town, aptly called Plainview, has an emotional need for faith and her explanation (the tragedy they’ve suffered collectively) seems simplistic. But this could also be her point: that the we spend a lot of time trying to pacify each other without being honest and all the while fearing being offensive.
With the governments ideas on faith schools and free-schools, How The World Began is a relevant, riveting depiction of the place of both faith and science in society and education. It’s only downfall is its setting. While the mindset of small towns exist and has increasing power in educational policies, rural America feels like an easy route to take when it comes to discussing religion.

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