I caught the last performance of John Godber’s fabulous romp, Teechers at Hampton Hill Theatre. The raised-platform stage at Hampton Hill Theatre was fun and dynamic – Godber’s 1980s play-within-a-play is not just a physical and verbal workout for the actors. It had me on the edge of my seat!
Directed by Asha Gill, and produced by the Teddington Theatre Club the show is billed as an amateur production – presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. The actors – leaping, running, moving around the simple wooden platform, were fluid and exuberant. There were skilful performances from each of the three energetic young players, as they raced about switching characters at breakneck speed.
All of these characters were a treat, I especially enjoyed Ms Whitham the fussy old English teacher, dying to get out of the rat race.
Aside from one or two hiccups the performance was smooth and well acted. The players switched roles adroitly, while maintaining their ‘permanent’ characters well. The schoolkids depicted by Josh Clarke, Joanna Taylor, and Caroline Gudge, going about in a fug of déjà vu, relieved only by their exquisite sense of mischief, were spellbinding, as was the cleverly managed dialogue
Their counterparts were the naïve new drama teacher, Mr Nixon, and the rest of the staff at Whitewall Comprehensive, some more seasoned than others. Along the alleyways of adolescence, the whip smart kids smoke their way through life, while casting a cynical eye on their betters.
Godber’s outstanding achievement is to convey, with minimalist devices, the touching vulnerability of these feisty working-class kids. Impossible not to feel empathy toward their posturing and bravado. When Gail speaks of snogging Mr Nixon at the school dance – she plans to eat loads of spring onions to hide the smell of alcohol on her breath – it pricks our reminiscence. Oh, the tender follies of youth – surely these belong to us all.
Outside the confines of school and boring lessons, these kids may not even have much to enjoy in Thatcher’s class-bashing Britain. They may never achieve the same level of life satisfaction – or income – that the kids up the hill will attain. They look askance at St George’s – the posher school, to which Mr Nixon absconds. They feel trapped in the system.
Drama teacher, Mr Nixon, fleeing the fascism of Mr Basford, (the dictatorial math teacher at Whitewall Comprehensive), struggles with his conscience as he abandons his fledglings, but not for long. The sheer bliss of teaching in a school that has a proper drama centre and equipment is too much of a lure.
Yet these kids have talent, verve, and capability. Here they are performing a play about their drama teacher Nixon; Godber’s intent is to show them as intelligent, and articulate; part of a school-system that classifies and confines. The all-pervading ‘system’ lowers expectations and tosses kids like these straight into the low-waged job market. Caged birds, and they know it.
The simplicity of the setting, Colin Swinton’s well-placed lighting, and sparse costuming, lend weight to the dialogue. Not a dull moment. Salty’s final lament about uncaring politicians is a moving piece of theatre. Knowing he is about to join the ranks of the disaffected on the outside, Salty pours out his heart to a bemused Mrs Parry.
Who doesn’t remember that odd sensation of emptiness, on leaving schooldays behind? Youth is forged in the cameo of the classroom. Teechers is a treasure for theatre goers and social-historians alike. Well done Hampton Hill Theatre, and TTC – more good theatre to our doorsteps.
Images by Jojo Leppink, Handwritten Photography