You might have thought Teechers, John Godber’s unsentimental education about late ‘80s classrooms, to be a little dated. After all, it’s cider, not vodka that fuels the school dance, there are no drugs and the F word is absent. But what shone through Bruiser Theatre Company’s touring production that premiered at The MAC this week was the burning injustice. This was, and still is in many places, a system that produces proles and over privileged exam machines according to education. There was a telling repeated image that Godber, one of our most skilled Left wing playwrights, deploys. He describes the way the three kids who are our gobby, fun narrators are treated like rhubarb. That is, brought on, then having “sh*t put on”. At the end, Salty repeats this in an interview with the head of Whitewall School. He slouches, describes himself as a late developer with no future at 16 on the Thatcherite scrapheap and uses the rhubarb motif.
Salvation lies with shiny, new drama teacher Mr Nixon. He walks into trouble with no experience and Chris Robinson gave a superb account of an innocent abroad. His subject, though, is the stimulus that’s led the three students to be able to produce the play within the play we’re watching.
From the start, as with all Bruiser productions, Teechers fizzes. In fact, the high octane, physical European theatre style is so fast and furious you wonder whether it could be toned down here and there, as it is in the upper class school scenes. But it suggests pace, energy and the chaotic nature of this deprived school where teachers routinely have breakdowns. We met the stereotype staffroom fodder, the nubile PE teacher, fascist maths teacher (with fake nose and short comic moustache to make the point), the head. Cordelia Parry, always with scarf and often with clashing pink and yellow outfits was a gem from Nuala McGowan. Her attempts to persuade Mr Nixon to play Coco in the Mikado was very funny.
The set pieces are well done under Lisa May’s direction, with the Christmas school dance featuring Gail and Hobby. Disguising their booze consumption with onions. Then infatuated Gail (affecting Mary McGurk) dances with the drama teacher, suggestively. One scene that could have slowed is the breaking of the school bully’s nose. Oggy Moxon, a tour de force from McGowan with snarl, is out but not down and represents a threat. But our kind of hero navigates his way through.
He acquires a job at posh St Pius’ and at the end is about to leave, having vanquished the maths teacher and winner of Miss Prime’s heart in, of all things, a tennis match.
Touchingly, the students ask him to stay on. They’ll even return for drama club.
Teechers’ message remains important. As John Godber says “At its heart is the very real assertion that the arts, and especially drama, should form part of the school curriculum. ..” This enables the students “to comment on society even as they live through it”.
Teechers continues at The MAC until February 10.