Dickson Telfer’s solo play, in which he also appears, charts the struggle of a teacher to impose control on a rogue class in so-called Higher Education. The 16 to 18 year-olds are there ‘because they can’t get a job, or won’t get a job’. They make life miserable for those who genuinely want to learn, mainly the mature students.
The classroom is a battleground where the teacher is losing the battle. The kids ignore him, deride him, surf on their iPhones, send texts, make calls – and do anything to humiliate him. Enter a senior teacher, Dr Ricketts, who gives him a few secret weapons to play with: psychological tricks, the sanction of expulsion, and more. At the end, having established control, the teacher has grown up himself and also grown in self-confidence.
I have no idea whether Telfer has been a teacher, but it all rings horribly true to my ears. The writing is full of school detail, and the ear for teenage argot spot-on. He also plays a gallery of the kids who are his tormentors with horrible conviction.
Clearly the many teachers in the audience were delighted with this depiction of themselves as saintly-intentioned ‘Improvers and Inspirers’. From my experience at both ends of the Assembly Hall, this is a very partial picture. In painting this purely in terms of a confrontation and power struggle, the author seems to end with the pessimistic solution of replacing one form of bullying with another – for ‘their own good’, of course. There’s no attempt to create any kind of depth in any of the pupils, and the result is very patronising.
On the technical side, the frequent light-changes are fussy and distracting, and the incidental music that underscores the action adds nothing, while drowning some of the actor’s speech. One nice touch that does ring true is the sheer physical toll that teaching takes.