Last night, Tom and I went to see the Robin Hood Theatre Company's production of John Godber's 'Teechers'. The play tells the story of a local comprehensive, from the point of view of three pupils - Gail (Cate Merrick), Hobby (Kim Leigh) and Salty (Tony Tallis). As they take us through the tale of their final GCSE year, we are also introduced to many other pupils and members of staff at the school, all of them recognisable for anyone who has attended a British secondary school.
The play, originally written by Godber in the 80s as a commentary on Thatcher's Britain, is intended to be performed by three actors, but RHTC decided to expand the cast to seven for their production, with Merrick, Leigh and Tallis joined by Andrew Tallis (as drama teacher Mr Nixon), Fiona Fitzsimmons (as over the top deputy head Mrs Parry - who wore pink AND yellow!), Ziemek Kazcmarek (as formidable head Mr Basford) and Evie Francis (as nervous English teacher Miss Witham). There are obvious drawbacks and merits to performing the play in this way.
The play loses some of its original intention, as the teachers are meant to be seen as the pupil's perception of the staff, rather than as original characters in their own right, but this did not distract from the play too much. In fact, having additional actors meant it was easier for the cast to create "lively" classroom situations (the final scene of act one featured Nixon struggling to keep his class under control) and also meant larger scenes (such as the tennis tournament in act two) had more of a crowd to create atmosphere. For an amateur group, there are obvious reasons to include a larger cast as well.
There was still space for multi-role, and the actors rose to the challenge with ease, Kazcmarek taking on the role of caretaker Doug, clinging on to his broom as though it were an extension of his body, and Francis playing no-nonsense P.E. teacher Miss Prime. The main cast of Merrick, Leigh and Tallis, who wasted no time in winning the audience over with cheeky asides and knowing looks, all took it in turns to portray the bully Oggy Moxon, with Merrick's monologue a particular highlight.
One of my favourite scenes involved the three main cast taking on the roles of ninjas as they re-enacted a play from their drama class, whilst some of the more dramatic moments involved Nixon getting into trouble for punching Oggy Moxon on the night of the Christmas party. The group's clever use of lighting and music helped to set the stage without the need for a complicated set - although I wish the music could have been a little bit louder!
For myself and Tom, the night was a bit of a trip down memory lane, remembering Elemental Theatre's production of Teechers from 2018. It amazed me how much of Godber's 1980s script remains relevant today. The fact that Nixon, who actively fights against traditional teaching techniques (even going so far as to hire a room in a local pub) ends up as the pupil's favourite teacher speaks volumes. The fact that Nixon finds himself applying for jobs in a private school just so that he can teach in his preferred style is even more poignant. At a time when schools are struggling to get pupils to engage with classroom learning in a post-lockdown world, perhaps we all could learn a lesson or two from 'Teechers'.
Robin Hood Theatre Company are back in December with their production of "Theft" by Eric Chappell. See their website here: https://www.rhtc.co.uk/
And if you're hungry for more Godber, Elemental Theatre are bringing Godber's "Shakers" to the stage in November! Tickets available here: https://www.seaty.co.uk/shakers
Tom Morley, September 2022