THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2024
Photo: Bruiser Theatre Company
Satirical, reflective, intense and concise, Bruiser Theatre Company's adaptation of John Godber's Teechers, directed by Lisa May, consistently entertains and at times astounds in its pacing, incisiveness and emotive openness. It's high on detail, hugely expressive and light on its feet, a clever and lively work which earns appeal and attention in unveiling a school system in all its excitement, intimidation, limitation and opportunities. It is a genuine instance of creativity from necessity in movement and message.
Hobby, Salty and Gail, respectively portrayed by Nuala McGowan, Chris Robinson and Mary McGurk, are a trio of Year 11s keen to show us just how rewarding, or difficult, their drama teacher found his two terms at the fictional Whitewall School – and how his arrival, tenure and departure impacted them. Aided by minimalist but distinctively arresting set design and costumes from Louise Dunne, the actors delight in bringing their characters' recent past alive for us all through the multiple role-playing of teachers, pupils and more. Their exuberantly comedic nature rubs off very positively on the audience upstairs at Belfast's MAC - frequent chuckles are heard and the energy never seems to waver. And as far as relating to the tale that May wishes to tell in updating the setting of the play from 1980s England to present-day Northern Ireland, this is no coincidence.
Photo: Bruiser Theatre Company
For teaching, in this environment and to the group of pupils at its heart, doesn't give one much breathing space in the moment. Especially not at Whitewall, an appropriate recreation of school as a stage where eyes appear to be on everyone all the time, and where pressure to present oneself as academically and as socially able as possible, be one a teacher, staff member or pupil, is prominent. The title of the play says it all - the pacing of this school's life and the play are such that a small spelling mistake seems irrelevant so long as a word is pronounced accordingly. It's like having not quite got there but hinting that one is at least going in the right direction - a balance between optimism and cynicism that those who look back at their own school days may be familiar with.
It's a playing field of sorts, this Teechers, and both May and the cast are fully game in embracing the possibilities of Godber's narrative. The production earns substance by shining a spotlight on the momentary soulfulness and inherent soullessness in a framework driven by the importance of pride and purpose, where injections of personality are fought for amidst striving for willpower. From the pupils' perspective, we get an insight into the "why" of bullying that no one wants to be on the end of, that dreamy sense of belonging that drama can inspire, and a set of complex emotions that aren't nearly as well-honed as those expressing them would like them to be. And from the teachers' perspective, it is a matter of being worn down by circumstance, the burden of expectation placed upon experience and wisdom that those around them depend on. Teechers is, in essence, about adjustment, the difficulties of confusion and alienation while identities are shaped and re-shaped during educational and career development, and the equally challenging difficulties faced when everything comes to either a halt or a pause. How else to explain the very loud musical interludes which punctuate the action, filled with sound loud enough to dance to but equally loud enough to drown out the doubting voices that emerge in a directionless context? Interludes which ultimately confirm Teechers' contemplative value for Hobby, Salty and Gail as well as the audience - it's a clear relief and release for the trio to tell and for us to hear the story in such a multi-faceted way. And if the ending may leave you wanting more... well, that, in a way, hints at the school within. A structure, uniform and way of living that may be abruptly left behind before one is fully prepared to reap its benefits.
Teechers runs upstairs at Belfast's MAC theatre until Saturday February 10 before touring until Sunday February 25. For more information, and tickets, click here.