Compelling school tale reaches new audiences

By Myron My

I missed Nijala Sun’s No Child when it was first performed during the Melbourne Festival in 2012 so when I heard Theatreworks was bringing it back this year for a limited run I jumped at the chance to see it and am extremely glad and grateful I had the opportunity.

No Child

No Child revolves around a new enthusiastic tenth-grade teacher at a rough Bronx high-school in New York where the children run circles round their educators. Miss Sun has a vision of these students performing Our Country’s Good, a play about British convicts on the first fleet. Ironically, the more we see of life in this school – and the students’ lives in general – disheartening parallels can be drawn between the two environments.

The unique thing about this production is the minimalist approach Sun employs in telling this story. There are only four chairs on stage and minimal props, no costume changes and Sun portrays all the sixteen characters. Her detail and commitment to each and every character’s physicality and personality is impressive and the transformations between them are flawless. Along with the strong story, No Child is therefore full of visual delights and thought-provoking dialogue and issues.

These issues are problems teachers face every day: how to engage children who – on the surface – don’t want to be engaged. Sun looks at this from various points of view and she questions how we can inspire students and have then feel safe enough to take risks, when we have all this testing and accountability to contend with. However, Sun doesn’t get preachy and tell us what we need to be doing, but her work encourages discourse on the matter with all – especially with children.

Adding to the performance is Mark Barton’s lighting, whose work created another layer of emotion into the show. The light changes happened quite subtly but with much effect, especially with the more emotive scenes at the end. Hal Brooks’ direction is strong and gives much support whilst also allowing much freedom for Sun to do what she does.

Despite the fact No Child is a commentary on the New York City public school system, it’s fair to say that anyone involved in the education system here will find relevance in the issues raised. If you haven’t seen this show you need to do everything you can to make sure you do. We all could learn a little something.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 26 May | Tues-Sat 8:00pm, Wed-Thurs 1:00pm and Sun 5:00pm

Tickets: $45 Full | $35 Conc and under 30

Bookings: 9534 3388 or