Eureka Day – Old Vic
There are limits to ‘right-on-ness’. A progressive primary school in the capital of ‘right-on-ness’, Berkeley California, is having a crisis. The citizens of Berkeley see themselves as the most progressive in America, as the leaders in any arcane discussion of gender, political correctness, and academic freedoms, a place where a conversation about the terms of ethnicity identification can take up an entire school board meeting.
But, on this occasion, one of the pupils has mumps and, it turns out, some of the parents don’t approve of the MMR vaccination. The parent-teacher board has to wrestle with whether to insist that all children who are not vaccinated can’t come to school or whether to shut the school for the duration of the epidemic.
Inevitably, the argument escalates as some parents see their right not to vaccinate their children as a political statement but insist that those children still have the right to go to school, while others don’t want their children exposed to the disease and favour closing the school, while still others insist that their children can’t be denied schooling because unvaccinated children carrying the disease may be present. There are many possible solutions, none of them good.
Eureka Day was written and first performed in 2018, long before Covid, but its arguments and concerns resonated throughout the pandemic in every school in America where principles warred with principals, parents with teachers and the losers in every argument were the children who missed out on schooling while the grown-ups argued.
The playwright, Jonathan Spector, himself a citizen of Berkeley, has a lot of fun at the expense of his fellow right-on citizens and the end of the first act of Eureka Day is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud scenes I’ve ever seen in the theatre. I defy you not to laugh at the antics of the Board, trying to hold an online meeting with the parents as they get more and more agitated and abusive, with their increasingly furious comments flashed up on the screen behind the hapless principal and his board members.
Eureka Day is far from flawless, but it is worth seeing both for its humour and for the seriousness of its core arguments, conflicts that every parent has had to cope with in the past two years. The acting from the ensemble company, led by Helen Hunt, making a splendid undestated West End debut, is uniformly first rate.
Eureka Day is a thoughtful and worthwhile evening in the theatre. And did I say that it’s also very funny?