Writer: Erin Holland
Director: Grace O’Keefe
Evie is a drama teacher at a sixth-form college. Her teaching style is not so much active engagement as it is getting all her pupils to rehearse while she browses inappropriate web pages, and she spends her weekends going to day raves while her head of department goes to teaching conferences, but she’s not a bad person: just underpaid, under-appreciated and a little bit overwhelmed.
As written and performed by Erin Holland (who, along with director Grace O’Keefe, forms The Queens of Cups theatre company) Evie’s world is a surreal place. The announcement of an impending Ofsted visit sparks rioting and an interdepartmental sword fight, a parents’ evening takes place in a hybrid environment of a World War I trench crossed with The Hunger Games, while Evie’s visit to the principal’s office to ask for a raise plays out like a scene from The Godfather. If there’s more than a passing resemblance to the madcap, bizarre world of the TV series Community, that’s no bad thing.
Holland paints a vivid portrait, whether it’s discussing her well-endowed boyfriend Andy (“I call him the Andy-conda”) and the difficulties of their sex life, or having the teachers sympathise about one of their number having left the profession, only to start taking bets on who’d be next to crack. A hilarious rap song about the parlous state of British schools, directed to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, is only slightly marred by Williamson having left the post in September last year – we’ve had two secretaries of state since then, and a third is likely on the way before Bad Teacher’s Edinburgh run this August will be over.
But amongst the fun, there is also a sense of the system failing its young wards. This is highlighted by the plight of Joy, a student who has clear mental health difficulties but for whom a long waiting list sits between her and the help she needs. Evie’s attempts to counsel Joy, a role for which she is professionally under-equipped but personally determined to try, pepper the otherwise outrageous comedy with moments of genuine pathos.
By the end of the hour, Holland has painted not only a picture of a fascinating human being in Evie, but of an environment that in its current state is doomed to fail its young charges. Turn it into a vividly surreal landscape, with sword fights and Mafiosi and blood-soaked bedrooms, and one might just survive.
The landscape of Bad Teacher is not so much “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” so much as it is “you’re going to cry anyway, so you may as well laugh as much as possible in the meantime.” And with a piece as riotously funny as Queen of Cups’s play, the laughter is guaranteed.
Reviewed on 28 July