Real life in a class of its own

I am at a loss for words and find it difficult to know where to begin in reviewing the latest offering from the Northcott Young Company.

I am at a loss for words and find it difficult to know where to begin in reviewing the latest offering from the Northcott Young Company. Teechers, by John Godber, was the vehicle chosen for these young people, aged between 12 and 17, from schools throughout East Devon.

It is a play set in a failing, special priority comprehensive school where the students do as they like, abuse their teachers for whom they have no respect, and where there is a lack of idealism from both students and staff. Into this situation arrives a new drama teacher who tries to do the best for his students but is eventually lured away to the 'posh' school down the road. John Godber writes from experience for he was a teacher of drama in secondary schools and also wrote for the TV programmes Grange Hill and Brookside.

No doubt there are a number of schools in the country that would fit the description of Whitewall Secondary School as portrayed in the play, and where teachers, new ones in particular, are driven to distraction and mental breakdown, but Rachel Vowles' production was sheer mayhem and noise without any clarity as to what was happening.

Godber originally wrote the play for just three actors who play 20 parts between them, from Mr Nixon the new drama teacher, and Mrs Parry, the eccentric headmistress, to Miss Prime, the dolly bird PE teacher, Mr Basford, the child hating disciplinarian, and Oggy, the school bully, but he did specify that these parts could be played by individual actors.

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With so-called choreography by John Whitehead, the cast just seemed to mill around endlessly taking up various poses.

I have often queried the suitability of Rachel Vowles' choice of plays for these young people and I do so again. I am only too aware that so many of today's young people use obscene language as a matter of course and Teechers was no doubt a true portrait of so many of them, but should we infer that this is acceptable by having young people use obscenities on a public stage? We were also treated to obscene drawings of genitalia on blackboards and there was a certain amount of sexual innuendo. I am no prude and I can accept such things as a true portrayal of life when it comes from adults, but not from 12 year olds. What happened to the innocence of childhood?

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For the second time in a few weeks I have been presented with a printed programme that was next to useless.

Yes, it gave short biographies of those taking part, but nothing about the play which would have helped to explain what was going on. And there was no cast list.

On the plus side, it was obvious that these young people had worked very hard and there were some very good individual portrayals, especially of the headmistress, Mr Nixon and Oggy, to mention just a few. Amongst those taking part, but quite unidentifiable, were Alex Hall and Max Hesmondalgh, of Colyton Grammar School, Paul Hanson-Eastland, of Honiton Community College, Holly Nielsen and Naomi Robson, of Exmouth Community College, and Oscar Pearson and Ellen Watchman, of The King's School, Ottery St. Mary.

John Dalton

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