Teechers: the comedy that makes school enjoyable
Teechers is a heart-warming love letter to the arts, specifically the subject of drama and the impact that it has on our lives. Written in 1984, John Godber relates his own experience as head of drama at the comprehensive Minsthorpe High School, 1981 – 1983. Like the principal character, Mr Nixon, he experienced the brutal realities of one side of the education system, which are still unfortunately very much in existence forty years later. Although very much focussed on the good that the arts can bring to young people, Teechers contains some sobering moments that directly tackle the social injustices faced by many students, amid the hilarious impressions, costumes and satire.
The production itself was a rollercoaster of hopes and disappointments. Cast in 2020 and with just one rehearsal complete, the cast and crew were forced to hold everything for the next two years as the world went into lockdown. With the theatre finally open again, the intrepid director, Asha Gill, made the ambitious decision to stage the play in the round, something that had not been done at TTC for eight years. I can safely say, however, that the vision came successfully to fruition and the effect was to truly immerse the audience in the characters’ experiences.
The play begins with three students discussing the show that they are performing, presumably in front of the whole school, as their final act before leaving year eleven. Thus, the play within a play takes us through the story of Mr Nixon (a character based on the students’ actual drama teacher, Mr Harrison) as he joins Whitehall High School and meets the huge cast of students and teachers, all multiroled by Josh Clarke, Joanna Taylor and Caroline Gudge. The story climaxes with Mr Nixon’s decision to leave Whitehall for the better reputed St George’s and the grounding realisation that the purpose of this end-of-year play is to convince the real Mr Harrison to stay.
In terms of technical elements, the crew were successful in producing a show that reinforced the message of celebrating imagination. Trine Taraldsvik’s minimalist set allowed for flexibility and fluid transitions as well as reflecting the realistic equipment that a group of school kids might have access to. Need a scene set in a car? Just prop two chairs side by side and direct a spotlight onto them to represent headlights.
There was also a general sense of openness and honesty when it came to design and direction. All scene changes were lit (Colin Swinton relying solely on flickering parcans to suggest a difference in setting) and any basic costume to symbolise the various characters was put on in front of us. There wasn’t even a backstage - the actors simply waiting beside the audience for their cue - and a clever, rather Brechtian technique was used in having the lighting and sound table behind the stage in the audience’s view. All these artistic decisions combined left us with the sense that it really was a production put on by students. Alternatively, a deeper interpretation might be that, in breaking the fourth wall and destroying naturalism, we as an audience were able to separate ourselves from the story and analyse the political message with a more critical eye.
Of course, we have to applaud the heroic feat of the three stars who brought this piece of theatre to life. From the get go, they had their audience giggling with superb characterisations of icons like the stiff, self-righteous Mr Basford, the pitifully frail Mrs Whitham and the infamous Oggy Moxon. The performance was slick, confident and beautifully in tune with the ins and outs of the fully dimensional people interacting on stage.
If I had one slight criticism (which I would argue is nobody’s fault in particular), it would the signs of outdatedness within the play. Although it is undeniable that the fundamental aspects of Whitehall resonated strongly with the experiences of those I spoke to, there are a few references, particularly song choices, that I felt, as a student myself, were beginning to show signs of age. Put frankly, you are unlikely to hear Ozzy Osbourne or the Rocky Horror Show being played through AirPods in my school’s corridors!
That being said, the core messages of Teechers are still incredibly relevant to today’s society. The question of class within the education system and the future of children who are deemed to be ‘unpromising’ by the rest of society is brought to light in the heart-wrenching scene between Salty and his head mistress, as he asks the pertinent question: ‘Who is it that says we only have one chance, Mrs Parry?’
Without a doubt, the TTC have succeeded in producing a quality piece of theatre that I and many others thoroughly enjoyed. What must have taken a lot of dedication, teamwork and huge amounts of patience has definitely paid off.
Juliete Hill - Pictures from Year Seven