Originally written in the 1980s, John Godber’s Teechers takes a swipe at the state secondary school system, exploring inequality of opportunity and bemoaning the dismissive approach to arts subjects within the National Curriculum. Nearly forty years on, an updated version of the play, set in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic secondary school, highlights how distressingly little has changed in the intervening period. Blackeyed Theatre’s touring production made its way to Greenwich Theatre this week where, fittingly, the press performance took place on the day of yet another teacher strike.
A play within a play, Teechers Leavers ’22 sees three Year 11 students at Whitewall Academy finally putting on their BTEC drama production in front of an audience, having been forced to produce the original on Zoom. As they prepare to leave Whitewall, Salty (Michael Ayiotis), Gail (Ciara Morris) and Hobby (Terenia Barlow) look back at their final few years at the school, exploring the impact of an inspirational new drama teacher and sharing a few lessons of their own.
For the most part, it’s a riotous comedy in which the talented trio swap seemingly endless roles at lightning speed, interspersed with high octane Tik Tok style dance numbers. There is perhaps a little too much of the latter, which starts to feel a bit old, although perhaps I should be directing the “old” comment at myself since the secondary school lads in front of me were enthusiastically dancing along even towards the end.
There is some fantastic audience interaction before the show even begins; it’s not particularly novel to send the cast out into the auditorium before curtain-up but it worked really well here, particularly as they gave the bulk of their attention to the school group. Harnessing one of the play’s main messages about the importance of connection, they got the children thoroughly engaged from the get go and received an enthusiastically responsive audience in return.
While there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, it is certainly not all light-hearted. At its core, there is real anger about the woeful state of the education system and the increasingly disparaging approach towards the arts within that system. Taking aim at academisation, private education and Michael Gove’s education reforms, it feels depressingly timeless, to the extent that the Covid references are the most dated thing about it.
Although there are moments that feel perhaps overly sermonic in their delivery, the bleak ending has real power. While you may leave questioning whether to feel more sympathy for the burnt-out teachers pushed into private schools, or those who send their own children to those schools while battling on in a state school job, it’s very clear who pays the ultimate price for the failings of this two-tier system.
Unlike Ofsted, we don’t try to condense our reviews down to single word (or star) ratings but it’s fair to say that Teechers Leavers ’22 achieves its learning objectives. Furiously funny, this classic play feels all too familiar. As for the education system it critiques, we’re happy to award that one an “inadequate”.
Teechers Leavers ’22 plays at Greenwich Theatre from 27 to 29 April 2023 as part of a UK tour. We received a complimentary ticket to the press performance on 27 April.