Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

salty, hobby Gail

Joseph Burfitt, Sue Smith and  Poppy Savage (formerly Cooksey-Heyfron), as Salty, Hobby and Gail.


Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


John Godber’s bittersweet comedy about life in a less than inspiring comprehensive school, an institution with more in common with a zoo than academia, has a sharp political edge beneath the laughs.

Yorkshire born Godber was a teacher for five years at Minsthorpe High School in South Elmsall, near Wakefield, a school where he had also been a pupil, so had some experience of working on the chalk face with Teecher’s hero, Mr Nixon, like Godber, head of drama.

The play is a play within a play, as three pupils Salty, full of enthusiasm that has nowhere to go, Gail, flirty and an unimpressed Hobby put on an end of school play they have created themselves about the school with names changed “to protect the innocent”.

Which leaves a whole school, or at least 20 or so characters played by a cast of five. What is real and what is the play swirl around as we encounter the school bully, Oggy Moxon, a threatening performance from the appropriately named Peter Savage. He is a pupil even teachers are afraid of. There are classes that are an educational war zone, pupils who regard teachers and indeed school as an inconvenience, and teachers who don’t cope or perhaps, worse, don’t care.

And, then, at the other end of the scale is Jeff Nixon, beautifully played by STAC newcomer Russell Reed. Nixon is a newbie, fresh from college, full of enthusiasm mixed with trepidation. He is based on Godber, right down to his walloping the school bully, and teaching the wrong book for O level. The main characters are based on real pupils and colleagues from his time teaching.

Nixon is an idealist, believing that good education should be for all, not just for those who can afford it, finding himself in a school where hope and ambition are in short supply. He is a man with a mission with pupils who see teachers as a challenge, a foe to be defeated.

nixon and bursford

Russell Reed as Jeff Nixon and Joseph Burfitt as the authoritarian Mr Basford

It is only later that we find their real feelings when Salty, a lovely performance from Joseph Burfitt, another newcomer, pours his heart out to the head, Mrs Parry, another solid performance from Sue Smith who also loses a few years to play the bored, unenthusiastic Hobby.

Salty has reached the end of his time at Whitewall High School and behind the bravado of leaving the boredom of school to class mates lies his real fear, the realisation that he has wasted his time, or perhaps more accurately, has had his time wasted at school, he is leaving with nothing, not even an education. The school had given up on him, all except Mr Nixon, and like the rest of the trio he is recognising the influence of the quiet, unassuming drama teacher has had on his life. Drama being the only thing from school they will remember.

The rest of the staff seem to have given up. Mrs Parry’s heart may be in the right place, but her head and attention are more towards her amateur dramatic group and her production of the Mikado, her fifth, and herdesperate need for a Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko.

The need being because she has told her deputy head, Mr Basford, Burfitt again, the go to lead for the past few years, that she wants someone younger and he will not be getting the part, creating a resentment that simmers throughout – intensified when Mr Nixon ends up with the role.

Basford is a teacher in the Wackford Squeers mould. As keeper of the timetable he teaches just the best behaved and best achieving children, believes education and fun or even a hint of enjoyment are mutually exclusive, believes drama has no place in a school and sends his own children miles away to St George’s, a school with good results and high academic reputation.

It perhaps highlights the hypocrisy of parenthood, balancing the idealism of a universal good education for all with doing the best for your own children. A do as I say not as I do philosophy.

Then there is Miss Jackie Prime, the PE teacher, a glorious performance from Poppy Savage – yes they are related, just married in fact. Poppy is a real teacher so this is a performance based on experience, perhaps with a hint of revenge by proxy on some of her colleagues and pupils,

She is wonderful as Gail, the pupil who has the hots for Nixon and spends her life turning down the lecherous Oggy. Her monologue on Oggy is just brilliant, sneers, fears and actions combine in a lovely scene.

She also pops up in flat cap and pushing broom as Doug, the unhelpful caretaker who dislikes kids and hates drama, as well as, like the rest of the cast, taking on the role of various other teachers.


A confrontation between the nasty bully Oggy, played by Peter Savage and Russell Reed's mild mannered Mr Nixon

Reed, for example weighs in as Mr Dean, who believes the kids love him and runs school discos with records a generation out of date.

There are laughs but behind that is a recognition of the inadequacies and failings of our education system – you only need to watch BBC’s Pointless to see something is amiss.

There is a moving moment when Nixon is about to leave to work at St George’s, that well-funded, well-regarded, well equipped school with its drama studio, full of pupils eager to learn and with encouraging staff. It is a case of practicality trumping idealism.

Set against that is the realisation that he has made a difference at Whitewall, and perhaps he is losing more than he is gaining, is he exchanging making a real difference for just an easier life?

Allied to that is the dismay of pupils losing perhaps the only teacher who inspired them, the only teacher to make a difference.

But this is a play within a play, remember, so is that for real, is Mr Nixon just a Mr Nixon in the end of school play, a character invented by his drama class, or is he their real, departing, drama teacher? Is it a plea for him to stay or perhaps merely a recognition of what he, and they, have achieved?

On the face of it Teechers is simple, a sort of teenage Bouncers, but behind the Godber format of multiple characters is a much more thoughtful and thought-provoking play about our education system. It is funny, and with moments we all recognise from our own schooldays, but at times it is also uncomfortable, at times it is moving, and the cast of five carry it superbly. Acting, timing and delivery are faultless.

Their characters are well defined with different voices, different demeanours - even different sexes for Doug - and director Jane Lush has kept everything moving along to create a memorable production which is well worth catching before it ends on Saturday, 24 August.

Roger Clarke


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