Writer: John Godber
Director: Adrian McDougall
With teachers striking, the school curriculum under the microscope and debates around core vs creative subjects a current common topic of discussion , a production highlighting the education system couldn’t come at a better time. John Godber’s Teechers was originally written in 1984, but this has been reworked as a contemporary offering, with COVID lockdowns, Ofsted inspections and partygate all working their way into the original text.
The story follows the students and teachers at Whitewall Academy after a failed Ofsted report. The teachers are tired, the students are uninterested and the facilities are severely lacking. In comparison, the posh private school across the road has parkour, mindfulness and a professionally managed theatre on their grounds. When new drama teacher Miss Nixon (Terenia Barlow) arrives, she questions the injustice of the haves and have nots, while forming a bond with friendship group Salty (Michael Ayiotis), Gail (Ciara Morris) and Hobby (Terenia Barlow) that could finally make them take an interest in school.
While it’s obvious there is a clear effort to re-visit this production with a spin relevant to the present day, the comedy still is very much reflective of a previous time, the type of comedy that requires a laugh track or cartoon style slapstick. Overdone stereotypes (the nerdy anorak wearing child avoiding P.E, the cigarette smoking bad-boy bully etc) are prevalent throughout, with seemingly no attempt to modernise or diversify any outdated clichés. The pantomime style production works at points, especially during the synchronised dance numbers and the imaginative drama-class pieces, but falls flat outside of these areas, too childlike to connect with an older audience, too cringeworthy for a teenage audience, yet too political for a young audience, resulting in a confused, lost target demographic.
Although the characters are corny, the cast are extremely hard-working – their physically demanding roles require a lot of variety and energy, which is delivered in abundance. Aside from their core roles as the friendship trio, they also play every other student, teacher and bystander within the show, tweaking their posture and accents slightly to document the changes in persona. Michael Ayiotis does the best job of transforming into each of his roles, somewhat of a chameleon on stage as he morphs from one to another with quick and easy execution.
Terenia Barlow has a brief moment where she belts out a song, causing jaws to drop within the audience at her incredible vocals, a shame that it is only a fleeting performance as she has a beautiful singing voice. Ciara Morris seems to struggle with injecting the variety into her characters as they all look and sound too similar to allow for simple differentiation, but she is well-suited to the over-the-top acting style that Teechers Leavers ’22 requires.
With a run time of just over two hours, it does feel slightly elongated considering the small cast and minimal stage design. Trimming the show down and cutting out the multiple repetitive scenes would help the script flow better, allow for the comedy to feel more natural and amplify the social commentary to a higher degree. The political statements are presented well, with good direction from Adrian McDougall to ensure they don’t get too lost within the story, but there is too much basic pantomime to allow them to really take hold.
Runs until 29 April 2023