Matthew Roberts’ solo show, Teach, at theSpace, Surgeons Hall is performance brimming with conviction and energy. He trained as both an actor and a teacher. Here his experiences at the chalk face are combined with his skills as an actor in an explosive critique of the current state of education and government policies over the years combined with insights concerning everyday life in the classroom.
A performance packed with punches and passion
It’s not just a rant, though he has a go at a host of issues. He also has some alarming statistics about how teachers see their work and how they are treated along with the business of recruiting and retaining them. These interludes come from Dr. Emma Kell’s book How to Survive in Teaching Without Imploding, Exploding or Walking Away. He brandishes the book around and quotes from it with all the fiery zeal of a missionary preaching with texts from the Bible. The physicality he brings to the performance matches well with the words in the title. He knows of the tensions and pressures that cause teachers to have mental health issues and to take time off work because they can no longer face the daily struggle and lack of support. He’s heard their cries of fury as one regulation or demand after another inhibits them from opening up the joys of learning and the creative energy of students as more hurdles and obstacles are put their way and the very reason they wanted to become teachers is buried in piles of paperwork, tedious tests and meaningless meetings. On three occasions he turns to the increasingly better-informed audience for a vote on whether he should stay in the job or walk away. It’s fascinating to see how results shift as the show progresses. One judgment says, "Remain: kids need teachers like you", while another advises, "Leave, for the sake of your own sanity."
Director Helen Tennison has harnessed the required energy modulations inherent in the script to create a production which reflects the highs and lows of teaching itself. Hence there are calmer moments when he reflects on the joys of education. His tale of the dragon probably resonates with many who can remember a special story they were told by an inspirational teacher many years ago or a project that gave them a sense of wonder and desire to know more about the world.
Every aspect of this show will resonate with teachers: it’s packed with the moments, situations and exposition that are part of their everyday lives and for many it might well prove to be a cathartic experience hearing someone proclaim what they have felt for years. Many in other public service professions will also identify with what they see and hear. For a few it might all be a revelation, but for everyone, Teachers should be recognised as a performance packed with punches and passion.