Teechers, Leavers '22 - UK Tour - Exeter Barnfield Theatre - Review
It’s not very often that the vast majority of the people in a room together can admit that they’ve had the same or even very similar experiences, it’s not very often that the vast majority of audience members for the same production can watch and say that they’ve been there, they know those feelings, they can relate. But here we are, it happened. After all, no matter what someone has gone on to do with their lives, they can all say the same thing. They all went to school, they all sat the exams, followed the timetables, met the teachers, and grew up with the sort of academic system that they can recognise. And that is where the brilliance of ‘Teechers’ by John Godber hits home.
‘Teechers’ introduces us to three students, Salty, Hobby, and Gail, in their final year at Whitewall Academy, a state school in an estate that is barely scrapping through the OFSTED inspection, full of troubled teachers and the home away from home for the kids who have always found themselves at the bottom of the pile in the game between the haves and the have nots. Salty (Michael Aylotis), Hobby (Terenia Barlow) and Gail (Ciara Morris) have never been that interested in Drama, until new teacher Miss Nixon comes along. She not only shows them what Drama can be, but also helps them to realise what they can be. She knows this kids don’t have a lot, compared to those who can attend the private schools, and she gives them all that she can, raising the questions of unfairness and pollical inequality. We see the three teenagers retelling the tale of Miss Nixon, their school and the students and teachers within it in an end of year production that not only raises laughter from the captivated audience with its overall relatability but also its deep-rooted political message. Despite originally being written in the mid-80’s, ‘Teechers’ hits home in today’s world, being restaged as ‘Teechers, Leavers ‘22’, illustrating not only the popularity of TikTok dances and the rise of technology, but also the heavy impact that Covid had on these youngsters in their formative school years and the political decisions that have made such a difference in the school system.
This three-hander production features Aylotis, Barlow and Morris equally displaying both natural flairs for comedy and a seemingly effortless ability to jump from character to character, from students to teachers, from characters in their own play to themselves. The regular breaking of the fourth wall allows for the audience to really get to know these three students and the characters that they play. From playing themselves to Miss Nixon, the teacher that made such a difference for them, to the teachers that shaped their school lives including the larger-than-life Mrs Parry who fully realises the poor hand that these kids have been dealt to Dr Basford who doesn’t seem to see (or perhaps care) for the problem.
In what is a wonderful celebration of the power of the imagination, comedy is built in a variety of ways from clever writing to displays of classic slapstick and silliness, all performed brilliantly by the talented threesome. From the TikTok dances that people will recognise from the days of Lockdown, to the school yard scenes that most can say that they remember from their own school days, there is something that most will be able to relate too here. And there is something very clever in the way that John Godber wrote the piece, combined with the direction by Adrian McDougall and Martha Godber. In a way, the audience are first lulled into thinking that this is a comedy through and through, three schoolkids telling their school life story with a brutal honesty intermingled with stories straight from their own imagination, but throughout little moments introduce something else, something more hard hitting and problematic, almost like little truth bombs just waiting to explode.
At its heart ‘Teechers, Leavers 22’ is an exploration of the vast difference between those that have and those who have not, not only in school but in the wider community. Why are decisions made by those who don’t know the price of a pint of milk? Why are some handed everything on a silver platter whilst others scrabble to survive. And why are some subjects, such as maths, English and science given the priority over drama? Why are children’s imaginations pushed aside in favour of fact driven classes and the drive for high flying perfection? This production asks those questions and highlights the impact of such decisions on young lives. It will make you laugh and smile, but it will also make you ask your own questions about not only how such important decisions are made, the difference between the advantaged and the disadvantaged but also how our school days have shaped our lives.
You can buy tickets to 'Teachers, Leavers '22' here https://blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/shows-2/shows/teechers-live-tour-2023/#tab-83363