Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Teechers’ which is at the New Vic in Newcastle-Under- Lyme until Saturday 26th April 2014
‘Teechers’ is one of John Godber’s earliest and most enduring plays. Written for Hull Truck Theatre Company in 1987 and drawing on his own personal history as a drama teacher, it has rarely been off the stage since. I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times but this new production, warehoused by his new relationship with Wakefield’s Theatre Royal, is one of the best.
Having played around with updating the show over the decades he’s clearly decided that – despite constant educational revolutions – nothing much has changed at the chalk face. So he’s gone back to the original version and it is still screamingly funny.
A bouncy cast of three young actors conjure up the 1500 staff and kids at Whitewalls, a comprehensive school in a ‘priority area’, and they are terrific; exuberantly energetic and endlessly versatile as the trio perform their self-devised end of term play. And with that simple device, Godber forges an unfailing bond with his audience because, of course, we all love drama and we’ve all been to school. Simples!
The show is packed with so many squirmingly and painfully hilarious adolescent memories. Godber pokes fun at the incomprehensible Master Timetable that covers the whole staff room wall like a template for nuclear battle – and at the endlessly familiar excuses that kids come up with for having forgotten their PE kit. He reminds us how mindlessly vile we all were to those innocent supply teachers and how dreadful the school dances were, with masters dancing like their demented dads and teenagers scoffing spring onions to hide the smell of alcohol.
But where he really scores is in his characterisations, all twenty of which are instantly recognisable, but always stop just short of cliché. They give the three actors so much to work with as they switch from their pupil persona into every other species in the school.
Tupele Dorgu (Coronation Street’s Kelly Crabtree) is so incongruous in her stretched school pullover and huge shoulder bag; one white sock constantly at half-mast. She gawkily stalks the stage like an arthritic giraffe before exploding into the crazy flamboyant Scottish headmistress, constantly trying to cast the school’s ‘Mikado’.
Peter McMillan is excellent as both the tentative, talented drama teacher – who finally wins the kids over with his commitment – and the monotonal school bully.
And Amy Thompson frequently steals the show as she switches effortlessly from seductively elastic gym mistress to grumpy jaw-jutting, jobsworth janitor. Her portrayal of Maureen, the utterly ineffectual teacher who’s in completely the wrong job and can’t escape, is superbly observed and as poignant as it is side splitting. I recognised her instantly from my own school days. She’s the reason I failed history.
The gags come in rapid relays but Godber does pause twice to contemplate the inequality of the system and the gaping void so many kids face after school. There’s always been scope for more of these thoughtful moments in his script – though I’m sure the audience (and there were a lot of real teachers in it) will readily fill in the guilty gaps themselves. Otherwise “Teechers” is a guaranteed hoot from start to finish and anyone who’s ever been to school will find it furiously funny.
Visit www.newvictheatre.org.uk for bookings & more information about New Vic Theatre