REVIEW: John Godber’s riotous school comedy makes a serious point

Brad Clapson, Jacob Addley and Lucy Benson-Brown. Picture by Alex Harvey-Brown
Brad Clapson, Jacob Addley and Lucy Benson-Brown. Picture by Alex Harvey-Brown
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Teechers by John Godber, The Capitol, Horsham, January 27

If you go to the theatre often it’s likely that you get frustrated by kids who can’t sit still before or during a performance.

Sure enough, while walking into The Capitol’s theatre on Tuesday (January 27) I notice three figures in school uniform skipping about on the stairs and pestering audience members.

I roll my eyes but then I realise that these ‘teens’ look familiar somehow. When a school bell rings and the kids run up on stage it becomes clear – I’ve seen these jokers in promotional photos for the show I’m about to see...

John Godber’s Teechers starts with three school leavers – Salty, Hobby and Gail – explaining to the audience that they’ve come up with a play based on their high school experiences. More importantly, they say, it’s a show about their drama teacher, whose name has been changed to Mr Nixon.

In short, Teechers is a kind of play within a play.

As the show starts, it’s difficult to like the teenage characters. They seem to have unlimited energy when dancing to music, singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen or simply mucking about, but they just can’t concentrate on their schoolwork. In one sequence, for example, the pupils waste time in class by rolling around on their desks pathetically while Mr Nixon loses his patience.

However, as the plot progresses, the teens become more appealing.

Lucy Benson-Brown is alternately lairy and charming as Gail, presenting a girl who’s very self-confident but rather ignorant about the ways of the world. Her ridiculous attempt at seducing Mr Nixon at a school dance gets huge laughs thanks to Gail’s delusional optimism.

Brad Clapson is also on good form as the oafish and exuberant Hobby. However, he gets his biggest laughs by camping it up as a secondary character, the headteacher Mrs Parry.

In fact, it should be mentioned that the three performers play all the characters in the piece, switching almost seamlessly between roles like school bully Oggy Moxon and fearsome deputy head Mr Basford.

Jacob Addley does this most effectively, playing the smug Salty and anxious Mr Nixon in ways that make both characters believable. Mr Nixon is especially easy to sympathise with when he has his idealism shaken by the reality of life at a modern comprehensive.

Surprisingly though, it’s Jacob’s apparently carefree Salty who brings up the most serious issue in the play when he starts worrying about his future.

Amid all the comedy Teechers has an unexpectedly sombre message: these kids are not stupid, but they have not been educated properly and they are not prepared for life outside school.

The three performers should be congratulated for conveying this point, and what it implies about education, while keeping things fun and entertaining.