The sudden collapse of Kids Company in 2015 was a dramatic and very public affair with it’s charismatic founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, claiming to ‘carry the governments troubles’ by working therapeutically and practically with 36,000 inner city children in ‘London’s Ghettos’. Successive governments gave the charity 42 million, granting another 3 million even as it became clear that it was financially unsustainable. While stories from insiders at Kids Company ranged from cult-like devotion to the leader through to chaotic mis-management, there was a great deal of meaningful therapeutic work going on with an incredibly complex client group as well. Given the personal stories and obvious potential for high drama here, it’s interesting that the Donmar’s new musical is for the most part a subtle and thoughtful piece of theatre based on a parliamentary transcript, set in a carpeted, committee room.

Subtitled: ‘The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company’, the decision to limit the show to the oral evidence given by Batmanghelidjh, and Alan Yentob to the panel of MP’s is a cool self imposed restriction which brings rewards but at times feels like a frustrating missed opportunity. Verbatim transcripts about serious contemporary issues such as the Nationals London Road have been made into dynamic musicals before, and there’s been no shortage of plays from political transcripts (without music) recently. However despite director Adam Penfords obvious efforts to add movement, the panel of MP’s stuck behind a desk in a carpeted room does feel inherently un-dramatic. Batmangehlidjh and Yentob are seen in television screens while they face the panel, only stepping out to face the audience when they sing their numbers.

Ultimately it’s the detailed characterisation of living characters and the sophisticated interplay between text (Rourke and Hadley Fraser) and Tom Deering’s score that keeps the audience engaged. Sandra Marvin in particular plays Camila Batmangehlidjh with uncanny accuracy, capturing her mannerisms and pleading yet powerful tones, resisting the temptation to slip into parody.

Penford’s carefully balanced production is a fascinating way to learn about this extraordinary case, leaving the audience with many unanswered questions; was Yentob blinded by Batmanghelidjh, strong personality? Did Kids Company have privileged access the government funding to prop up Cameron’s floundering ‘Big Society’ policy? Would the charity have folded without the uncanny timing of the historical allegations of sexual abuse being leaked to the press? With Josie Rourke at the helm, The Donmar continues to push the social and political possibilities of contemporary theatre and keep it’s committed audience thinking.
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