Seemingly at the end of his tether, a teacher sits, tie loose, marking work, clearly frustrated to say the least. Describing himself as grumpy, sad, but creative, Rick Wood’s opening number of this new devised piece of beat poetry musical theatre establishes the fact that this will be a show replete with observational humour, centred around the working life of a drama teacher in a secondary comprehensive school. Though immediately evident that this is a show set for success among audiences made up of teachers, there is enough in the writing to satisfy viewers less familiar with such classroom favourites as differentiation, leading staff training, and ‘gifted and talented’ initiatives.
Almost all of the students' antics will be relatable to one’s own school days
Indeed, it is Wood’s rapid-fire witticisms that drive this piece along. What is at times lacking in rhythm and articulation finds some salvation in sharply drawn and deeply felt misconceptions of teaching - just don’t mention part-time work, summer holidays or performance-related pay. Almost all of the students' antics will be relatable to one’s own school days. The opening episodes do feature some effective lines, though not a small number of the rhymes are excruciatingly forced, even for a piece consciously mocking itself – at least in part. There may well even be more of value in the text than is always revealed, as the vocal delivery at times struggles to maintain pace with the pre-recorded soundtrack, rendering some lines incomprehensible.
Somewhere in the middle of the piece, however, something changes. In a departure from surface-level observation, Wood hones in on the experience of one particular student and thereby creates the drama needed for a real emotional investment. In this partly autobiographical piece, it is abundantly clear that the persona of the teacher cares deeply about the well-being of this student whom he knows has a difficult home life. Through a number of anecdotes building towards the climax, Wood effectively presents the moral and professional dilemmas faced by teachers when the role becomes more than just dealing with the academic subject.
In the most effective example of his poetry, framed as a phone conversation with a parent towards the end of the piece, Wood shows that his writing does work well when the rhythm flows fluently. Equally, the conclusion works well with some clear character development. Though he feared that a reviewer might not get a lot of the references in the show, this one (who is also a teacher) did – it perhaps remains to be seen whether a more varied audience would respond in the same way.