by John Godber
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Stephen Smith
The TEECHERS! who first recognised their fictional counterparts in John Godber's play may be 20 years older by now, but sadly I doubt whether the state of affairs in schools like Whitewall High has changed very much for the better in that time. When a new young drama teacher joins the staff at the local sink school, he tries hard to enthuse students who frankly admit they have joined his drama class "for a bit of a doss", but finds himself fighting apathy and disillusionment among his fellow teachers as well as the members of his class. Thanks to a great deal of determination and good humour, he eventually succeeds, only to be seduced by the offer of a job at St Georges, a nearby grant maintained school boasting high achieving pupils and the kind of facilities Whitewall teachers can only dream of. His very real anger as he contrasts the two schools reflects the playwright's condemnation of a state educational system that treats young people so inequitably.
There are lots of characters in Teechers! but they are all played by a cast of three: Salty, Hobby and Gail, far from being A students are more like D students, but when they are asked to devise a play about life at their school, their portrayal of staff and students at Whitewall High is wickedly accurate. In WCP's production, Mike Husband as Salty, Cath Perkins as Hobby and Kattreya Smith as Gail switched rapidly from character to character, using minimal but well chosen items of costume and props to indicate the changes. Their energy and commitment were admirable throughout this very fast moving play, as was their excellent teamwork. In scenes ranging from the staff room to the tennis court, from the French classroom to the school disco, they had the audience alternately laughing and wincing with painful recognition at situations familiar to everyone. Mike Husband played drama teacher Mr Nixon with convincing initial idealism rapidly dissolving into irascibility with the attention deficiencies of his students, while his cameo as Mr Hatton, aka Jimmy Savile, spinning the discs at the school disco was a delight. As Oggy Moxon, the definitive hard boy and terror of the entire school, he was boneheadedly intimidating. The role of Oggy was taken by all three actors in turn, with the "I'm well 'ard" rap delivered by Cath Perkins bringing a particularly appreciative audience response. As Mrs Parry, headmistress and am dram fiend, whose gung ho directorial approach to the school production of "The Mikado" must have touched many a nerve, Cath was delightfully cavalier. I would have liked a deeper, plummier voice for this character though, described as "large in frame as well as personality." Haven't we all encountered herů Kattreya Smith's deputy head Mr Basford swished his cane and inspired terror in the junior staff, if not always the students, while, in complete contrast, her depiction of games mistress Miss Prime had not only Mr Nixon but quite probably most of the males in the audience on the edge of their seats. Comic timing was well in evidence here.
As other students they were perhaps a little less successful - I felt that they were sometimes rather too well spoken for the sink estate they were supposed to inhabit. However I did laugh at the vacuous expressions, not to mention the daffy hat, affected by Cath Perkins as Simon Paterson, and I thought Kattreya Smith's geeky Barry Wobschall - always forgetting his PE kit - was spot on. Unfortunately, the concern of all three actors to keep up the pace sometimes led to a tendency to speak too fast, which was a pity as several very funny lines didn't get the laughs they should have done because the audience didn't hear them clearly.
Technically, this was an excellent production, with the lighting, particularly in the disco scene, illuminating the action and conveying the atmosphere well. The sound effects were entirely appropriate and always on cue, and the 1980s soundtrack was greatly enjoyed by the audience and enhanced the performance in just the way that music should.
Congratulations to all concerned for tackling such a demanding play with such enthusiasm and energy. I enjoyed the evening very much and I look forward to WCP's forthcoming production of another John Godber play, "Lucky Sods" with great anticipation.
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