This week I headed to Greenwich Theatre in South London for the first time to review ‘Teechers Leavers ‘22’: an updated version of John Godber’s 1987 comedy play Teechers. Blackeyed Theatre are currently touring UK theatres with the work until the end of May, following Godber’s recent return to the original material. The production is directed by Adrian McDougall and is a joint venture between the theatre company and South Hill Park.
About Teechers Leavers ‘22
In Teechers Leavers ‘22 the education-focused comedy has been brought forward to the present day, referencing the pandemic and Tik Tok generation, as well as popular culture references of the past few years. It continues to follow a ‘play within a play’ format and is led by three comprehensive school students (Salty, Hobby and Gail). The year 11 students recount their time in school through the mediums of impersonation and personal anecdote, acting out recent experiences to their teachers. Basing the characters on personal encounters throughout their school years, names are changed for the imitation, but it is fairly obvious to the staff who they are trying to portray.
Whilst the new version is more relevant in today’s society, the updated script continues to lean heavily on the political themes of the 1980s work. This new adaptation also discusses the way current policy deprioritises the arts and the lack of opportunity to study these subjects at comprehensive schools.
The play is exceptionally funny, largely down to the fantastic performances by Michael Ayiotis (Salty), Terenia Barlow (Hobby) and Ciara Morris (Gail). Teechers Leavers ‘22 as a piece adopts a larger-than-life and almost parody-like comedy style, with each actor contributing to the overall humour of the production. At times it is over-the-top and unrealistic, leaving you wondering how much students would actually talk like this is in 2023. However the slightly ridiculous interpretation of school life can be somewhat forgiven as it manages to both make you laugh and reflect on what it means to have a right to study every subject.
Sincerity and heart
The inspiring drama teacher Mr Nixon has been updated to Miss Nixon in Blackeyed Theatre’s production and Terenia Barlow plays the character with sincerity and heart. Barlow has the least amount of opportunity to add to the comedy value of the show, but what they do bring is compassion for the students and an appreciation that current circumstances aren’t fair for everyone. The actor is at their strongest when playing the conscientious Miss Nixon, so much so that when you see them in the role of Hobby, the core character actually feels underdeveloped. A critique of the presentation of the source material, Hobby is sometimes overpowered given how much Barlow embodies the inspiring teacher. It is one of the complexities of having actors play multiple roles.
Music and dance
I was pleasantly surprised to see so much music and dance within the production. With tributes to musical films, Teechers Leavers ‘22 is an example of fast-paced physical theatre, set to music. Michael Ayiotis’ commitment to the Grease section is notable, recreating the iconic moves in a hilariously sarcastic way. Scene changes are backed by modern day artists and the movement of bodies and set pieces to the rhythm of the beats provides flow and continuity.
Although the high energy keeps things exciting, the movements can sometimes come across as untidy. It is difficult to acknowledge that this is fictional students putting on a performance and also consider the show as a standalone piece of physical theatre. Putting the fictional play format aside, there are a few coordination and timing issues between the performers. This is potentially because there is too much going on within the allocated production time. Taking things slower could potentially give the performers more breathing space, supporting their exceptional talent.
Ciara Morris steals the show for me with their portrayal of the school caretaker and PE teacher. I found myself constantly laughing at their range of voices and use of outrageous mannerisms. You can’t help but admire how much they have answered the assignment with Teechers, trying to imagine how 16 year olds would view their teachers. Is it an accurate representation of how school staff act? Absolutely not, but that’s part of the fun of Teechers, the students can let their imaginations run wild and recreate the teachers in whatever way they like.
Closure within the show
Whilst the production is packed full of content, by the time it came to a close, the ending and wider picture were unfortunately lost on me. The show comes to an abrupt stop and doesn’t clearly round off answers to some of the deeper questions of the work. The play within the main play does come to a suitable end, but what was the students’ inspiration for their creation? Why were they so inspired by their drama teacher? Priority has definitely been given to the comedic elements, leaving less room for closure during the final scene.
Teechers Leavers ‘22 takes the original production and gives it a renewed sense of energy and relevance to the state of education today, particularly focusing on how young people have been affected by the pandemic. It is undeniably funny, but it tries to achieve too much within its allotted time. Despite its strong messaging, the play doesn’t quite come full circle at the end. It goes without saying that Ayiotis, Barlow and Morris are very talented actors however and visitors to Greenwich and future venues are in for a hilarious night at the theatre. Tickets for the remaining performances can be purchased from the theatre’s website, with the final performance in London on Saturday 29th April.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Teechers Leavers ‘22 were gifted in exchange for a review of the production.