Writer: John Godber
Director: Mark Babych
In celebrating its 50th anniversary, Hull Truck Theatre is looking back on previous achievements, among them John Godber’s Teechers from 1987. But schools have changed a lot in the past 35 years – hence a re-working as Teechers Leavers ’22. Memory doesn’t really stretch to previous productions, but this new version comes up fresh as paint, with one or two reservations.
The basic structure remains. Three Year 11 pupils, Salty, Gail and Hobby, have made this play as a farewell to their school and act it out, taking on the roles of theatre-obsessed head (not strictly the Head – as is the way these days, he’s running several schools), sternly academic director of studies, school bully, grumpy caretaker and the rest. The one central character apart from the pupils is the idealistic Drama teacher whose gender has changed over the past 35 years: she is now played by Martha Godber.
Interestingly, Mark Babych of Hull Truck Theatre directs the joint production with the John Godber Company, getting vivid performances from Levi Payne, Purvi Parmar and Martha Godber. At the outset they enter, sit at desks and launch into an animated sequence of all the uncooperative positions pupils assume. Such little diversions are a feature throughout: a brief, beautifully co-ordinated dance, a song and so on.
Many of the changes are to do with Covid. The banning of Christmas parties (only Boris Johnson is allowed parties – the biggest laugh of the performance) is among the more trivial hardships. More pertinent is the need to complete assignments at home, especially for those pupils lacking internet access. Non-Covid changes include the re-shaping of the Drama syllabus so that written work predominates.
Payne, Parmar and Godber are all excellent, athletic in movement, changing stance, accents and sometimes gender as they take on different characters, denoted by a scarf or a pair of spectacles. Caitlin Mawhinney’s set gives them plenty of room to romp in, a school hall with the usual impedimenta, lockers, gym bench and so on, and the clever detail of a broken window at the top.
What of the reservations? The obsession with St. George’s School seems excessive and the second half is less full of vibrant material than the first. The case is well made: there is no need for the near-final harangue, but at least Godber steps aside from the predictable sentimental ending and the last words are of bitterness. For all that, this is a highly entertaining revision of one of Godber’s most popular plays. What could be more appropriate than the renaming of the Studio for the man who has done most to build the company, as announced on Press Night?
Runs until 11th June 2022.