Boy at the Back of the Class - Photo: Manuel Harlan

When a group of primary school children decide to help their new friend – a Syrian refuge – strange things happen, in this charming stage adaptation.

Based on Onjali Raúf’s debut novel of the same name, the story is told by schoolgirl Alexa (Sasha Desouza Willock) who together with her gang of classmates befriends Ahmet (Farshid Rokey) who arrives one day and takes up the empty chair at the back of their classroom.

As they learn more about him, his journey to England, and his missing parents, they become determined to do whatever they can to help – despite some opposition from less accepting pupils, parents, and staff.

The story is told clearly and simply, with a smattering of jokes, music, and dance, ensuring it doesn’t defeat the attention span of even its younger audience members.

But that simplicity is also its biggest weakness: other than Alexa and Ahmet the rest of the characters are little more than caricatures – especially the mean old-school teacher, complete with a mortar board not seen in a UK school in decades.

The play deals sensitively with complex and potentially disturbing issues of migration and xenophobia but does so a little too neatly – the ending is far too tidy for what is a distressingly complex reality.

It’s a fitting production for a Theatre of Sanctuary and the style of the show makes it a great bridge for children outgrowing panto and moving towards full-length stage drama. It’s just the story could do with a little more bite to really make an impact.

  • The Boy At The Back Of The Class continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 27, 2024