BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

30/04/2013 - 04/05/2013

Production Details

Revenge of the student! A funny, fast and furious look at what the school system does to those at the bottom. With low expectations from their school, and even less of themselves, 3 school leavers use the final assembly to “tell it like it is”.

Multiple characters, bare bones set and a passion to be heard, Salty, Gail and Hobby launch themselves onto the BATS stage in this local adaption inspired by John Godber’s working class play.

Brought to you by Whitireia NZ Stage and Screen Arts course, which last year produced ‘Loser’ at BATS.

April 30 – May 4, 7pm,
@ BATS – Out of Site, cnr Cuba & Dixon  
Playing time: 60 minutes 
(Warning: contains schoolyard language, and rude things drawn on the whiteboard.)  

By John Godber
Director/designer: Richard Finn

Engaging energy and dynamism

Review by James McKinnon 30th Apr 2013

Teechers was a learning experience for me. Three graduating high school students perform a play for their teachers, focusing on one idealistic drama teacher who changed their lives, Mr Dixon. He is also considering leaving the school, to take a job at a school in a wealthier neighbourhood. The students – Salty (Kade Nightingale), Hobby (Chelina Roberts), and Gail (Trish Cherry) – play all their teachers and many of their classmates.

I had never heard of before seeing this production, and when I consulted the oracle of Google afterward Teechers, I discovered that this makes me ignorant. It was written in 1984 (making it about a decade older than the current actors), and based on the volume of clips and trailers on Youtube, it appears that it has been playing almost continuously since then.

Playwright John Godber’s original setting was a comprehensive school in the UK, but he wants the play to be updated and adapted to keep it relevant, and it is a credit to this production that their adaptation blends into the New Zealand context very well. Although – since I’m so eager to disclose my ignorance – I have never set foot in a New Zealand high school classroom, I spend my days with people who recently left (escaped?) them, and while I feel the representations of the teachers felt a little dated, the students felt authentic.

The ease with which Whitehall Comprehensive becomes Whiti High School may not be a credit to New Zealand, though, given that Godber’s play criticises an educational system rigged to shore up the class system and ensure that working class kids stay that way. I also note that high-achieving, relatively privileged university students here often ask me for letters of reference to help them get the same dismal, low-end service industry jobs that Godber’s underprivileged characters resign themselves to as their punishment for not going to university.

This production keeps the audience engaged for 60 minutes largely because of the energy and dynamism of the performers. The plot is little more than a rambling, aimless retrospective of the past year, alternating between the students’ perspective and the teacher’s. The show therefore relies heavily on the virtuosity of the three performers, who must shift rapidly and frequently from role to role, making the characters vivid and distinct, and always showing the attitudes of Salty, Hobby, and Gail to the characters they themselves are playing. 

The actors are very skilled, especially Trish Cherry, who embodies her characters with exceptional precision. They are also sincere and committed to the characters, so their performances do not come off like condescending caricatures of chavs. This makes them very likeable, and even if they don’t yet have the range to play eight distinct characters, or the precision to make consistently crisp transitions between them. I wanted the actors to succeed, even though they did not make me care about the characters.

While the actors are very talented, the play is not well executed. The transitions are sloppy, the conventions needed to help us distinguish character are not set up properly, and although the show is written in a direct address style rather than fourth wall realism (the characters often have to narrate their own stories in the third person), the actors stare off into the distance as if they are speaking to an imaginary audience rather than a real one – we’re right here, guys! Why not actually acknowledge us instead of pretending to acknowledge an imaginary audience? 

The sound design is obnoxiously intrusive. Godber instructs productions specifically to update the music to keep it relevant, but this production is full of stock music cues instead of actual songs, and instead of creating a signature sound for each character they just call attention to themselves.  For example, whenever school bully/bogan Oggy Moxon enters, his costume and (very skilful) physicalisation clearly call out for an aggressive hip hop theme, but instead we get a canned guitar lick that (barely) evokes the American Pie soundtrack.

I look forward to seeing the performers again in another show.


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