Teechers at Hampton Hill Theatre

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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.

Teechers at Hampton Hill Playhouse
Actors Josh Clarke, Joanna Taylor, Caroline Gudge

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 and scorn their ‘betters’.

Godber’s  achievement is the use of minimalism to show the 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 – the tender follies of youth.

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 gain the life satisfaction – or income – that the kids up the hill will surely attain. St George’s – the posher school, to which Mr Nixon absconds is beyond reach. They feel trapped in the system.

Drama teacher, Mr Nixon, fleeing the fascism of Basford,  abandons his fledglings, but not for long. The sheer bliss of being in a school with equipment is way too much of a lure.

Godber’s kids are intelligent, and articulate; cogs in a school-system that classifies and confines. The all-pervading ‘system’ lowers expectations and tosses them straight into the low-waged job bin. Caged birds, and they know it.

The 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, Salty pours out his heart to a bemused Mrs Parry.

Who doesn’t remember that odd sensation of emptiness where 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

Loot – A Joe Orton Classic

Seeing LOOT is a rare treat. TTC staged Joe Orton’s brilliant absurdity as their ‘alternative Christmas show’ describing it as ‘wielding a satirical sledgehammer to conventional English morality.’


 
Loot, a Joe Orton Classic at Hampton Hill Playhouse
Hampton Hill Playhouse
Loot - A Joe Orton Classic with TCC
Loot – directed by Nigel Cole

On curtain opening, we found a stage cluttered with kitsch – religious iconography, such as images of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart. The holy water container, and the ubiquitous plastic Madonna were present, of course. Next to these, the curtained-off bed, the suspicious-looking closet and a huge coffin that dominates the stage. The voice of Fay McMahon, the nurse, in farcical accent chimes well with the OTT stage setting. The cringing McLeavy – in a stagier brogue – sets off an infectious atmosphere of fun and mischief.

LOOT is no mere pastiche. This savage comedy is a clever and satisfying dismembering of religious and institutional hypocrisy. The play was first performed during the period when homosexuality was illegal in Britain, as well as a being an egregious sin. Orton eviscerates the pompous and the puritanical. He examines the social-cultural morals of the era and finds them wanting.

I sensed Orton’s affection for his motley crew. Inspector Truscott, is an inverted Sherlock Holmes. Silly officer Meadows, is a betrayal of the ever-stoic ‘Dixon of Dock Green’. The two would-be bank robbers are no exemplars of the Kray twins. They have a problem living up to their ‘wide-boy’ image – one of them can’t even lie! Nurse McMahon is a serial killer. The holier-than-thou McLeavey is drowning in iniquity. These are all wonderfully subversive 1960s stereotypes.

Loot - A Joe Orton Classic
TTC Players performing Loot at the Hampton Hill Playhouse

Familiar tropes, but highlighting the absurdity of narrow-minded conventions, celebrating the quirky and the absurd. The ever-present coffin and the corpse of McLeavys late wife – trussed up and manhandled like a sack of potatoes – lent a delicious sense of sacrilege to the proceedings on stage.

Orton was a master satirist in the tradition of Oscar Wilde, if on the opposite end of the class spectrum. The London Observer once referred to him, as “The Oscar Wilde of the welfare state gentility.”

For more crackpot fun, tune in to Lizzie Snoopes

60 second tasters

Ultimately, Orton was the victim of a murder-suicide at age 34. He died in his flat in 1967, a scene he might well have written into one of his dark satires.

Luckily, theatre-goers can still see and appreciate his superb plays, but there might have been more to enjoy if his life wasn’t ended so brutally.

Thanks to TCC and Hampton Hill Playhouse for revisiting this wonderful play.