John Godber reinforces his campaign for the arts in education with Teechers Leavers ’22, an updated version of his original play now on its fourth UK tour courtesy of the outstanding Blackeyed Theatre,seen on this occasion at Greenwich Theatre.
Action-packed show filled with movement, dance routines and fast-paced dialogue
Godber says this version of the platy ‘tries to take into account the embattled nature of state education during and post Covid 19. It still retains its comic elements, but I think the play is stronger, if darker, as it describes a school system which pushes arts subjects to the fringes’. It certainly doesn’t fail in those respects, with some hard-hitting scenes that expose the struggles the arts are currently experiencing in education.
This overtly critical polemic runs through the bouncy, comic production in what he describes as a ‘highly physical depiction of state education’. It’s been made all the more relevant by the recent suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry following an OFSTED inspection which downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate. Godber makes his revelations through the eyes and insights of three year 11 pupils, Salty (Michael Ayiotis), Gail (Ciara Morris) and Hobby (Terenia Barlow) who energetically take on numerous roles portraying both teachers and students. They attend Whitewall Academy, a struggling school that’s failed its Ofsted and is overshadowed by the vastly superior elite private school down the road that provides the quality of education that these kids can only dream of. In particular they follow the arrival of Miss Nixon, a new drama teacher, full of passion and commitment who has a profound influence on the students. But can she survive and sustain the will to fight for them and what she believes in or will she lured to an easier life and fabulous facilities in the rival institution?
The minimalist set by Victoria Spearing is an apt reflection of the lack of resources that teachers face on a daily basis. As many drama teachers know, it’s amazing what you can do with just three tables and three chairs. It serves this production well, giving Director Adrian McDougall and assistant Martha Godber an open stage. Along with choreographer Scott Jenkins, they’ve created and action-packed show filled with movement, dance routines and fast-paced dialogue, appropriately lit to suit the changing moods by Alan Valentine. The ensemble cast have great chemistry and punchy delivery, with timing that makes the most of the comedy and yet can be toned down for the hard message that brings the ending to a thought-provoking and brave low rather than a show-stopping high. Reality really hits home.
Godber observes, “I had thought that social divisions might have grown closer in the thirty odd years since I first wrote the play: unfortunately, from what I hear and see, the divisions are wider and the marginalisation of drama in the curriculum in state education is still advancing strongly”. Spot on!