With the state education system in tatters following years of austerity, Ofsted facing more criticism than ever, and a government – having crashed the economy – obsessed with teaching maths to the age of eighteen, when better to revive John Godber’s Teechers? Though technically Teechers Leavers ‘22 isn’t a revival, it’s a complete rewrite of the original, bringing it slap up to date.
Blackeyed Theatre’s production, directed by Adrian McDougall, has seen Godber revise the play (originally written in the mid-eighties) and set it firmly in the summer of 2022. The students and teachers of Whitewall Academy are emerging from, but still living under the shadow of, the pandemic.
The teachers go through the ritual of putting on masks and repeatedly sanitising before daring to set foot in a classroom. Teechers Leavers ’22 retains the play within a play structure, but here Salty, Hobby and Gail have already performed their piece on Zoom, and now their performing it for the very first time in person to the students and faculty of the school – that’s us by the way.
Indeed, the cast are in the auditorium chatting to their ‘classmates’ before the show begins, Gail (Ciara Morris) pointed out I had good seat as Salty (Michael Ayiotis) attempted to extract some chocolate from someone further along the row.
The whole point of Godber’s play is the importance of drama in the curriculum, in Teechers Leavers ’22 the previously wayward students are encouraged by the arrival of a fresh-faced drama teacher. The names have been changed we’re told, so Miss Harris (a gender swap from the original) becomes Miss Nixon, played with real flair by Terenia Barlow.
Barlow also plays Hobby, because with a cast of only three portraying somewhere approaching twenty characters, there’s quite a bit of multi-rolling going on. The cast do a marvellous job of this; aside from a few key characters it doesn’t seem to matter who portrays who, but it remains easy to follow due to the very clever character traits that have been built in.
Michael Ayiotis is particularly skilled at bringing the multitude of characters to life, from a flamboyant head teacher, to the school bully, Oggy, all achieved with a mastery of physicality. It is at its heart a comedy, and characters like Ms Whitham and Jackie Prime are made even funnier by Ciara Morris’s colourful portrayal.
Being set in 2022 rather than 1987 means many more up to date references are included, even Partygate gets a mention. Scenes are punctuated with TikTok dances making this a gloriously high energy production, despite only having three desks and three chairs as a set. Song and dance feature quite heavily, with Terenia Barlow giving us just a fleeting listen to some pretty impressive vocals.
While the setting is updated, the harsh realities of inequality remain. The private school, St George’s, is often what Whitewall is compared to, the former is well funded and all the latest facilities, while the latter is short on space and equipment, and the majority of students don’t have computers to be able to do their homework.
It’s a scathing commentary on education, but one which highlights the gross unfairness of the system, if you care a jot about young people and their future, then parts of this play will make you feel angry. But it delivers that message subtly, so that on the face of it, Teechers Leavers ’22 is a light-hearted comedy, filled with colourful characters and amusing situations, all brought to life by a loveable trio of misfits.
Teechers Leavers ’22 is currently touring, full listings and ticket information can be found here.