Teechers is vintage Godber at his best, showcasing the playwright’s affable, easy humor with concentrated criticism on social injustice – in this case, it is the British education system that bears the brunt of his attack. In it, Godber draws heavily on his experience as a drama teacher at what he described as “a particularly rough comprehensive”, and in order for the play to work, one must successfully convey a certain heightened realism, remaining entirely naturalistic but at the same time, constantly engaging with the audience, for it is the audience to which this “play within a play” is performed – again, pitfalls abound given how irritating metatheatre done badly can be.
The play requires a great deal of flexibility from the three actors, as they shift from the nervy young drama teacher to the school bully and so on. For the most part, the three actors pulled this off, although the piece certainly requires more polish. Alex Sheppard was impressive as both surly teen and compassionate Mr. Harrison, with the interchange between various northern accents as he shifted character working well, and energy remaining high. Similarly, Sarah Illingworth’ Gail for the most part was very good, as she successfully capitalized on Godber’s humor, endearing herself to the audience. Kaiya Stone as Hobby had some nice moments, though her rather too breathy delivery made it hard to discern what she was saying, and out of the three she had the most trouble with the script, stumbling over lines. I hope she addresses these points before the performance, as her character has the potential to be very funny indeed. The northern accents for the most part worked well, and I was very glad to see that the Hull element had been retained, though some slips were inevitable. Again, it is entirely likely that such issues will be resolved by opening night.
Claire Morley has clearly done her best to bring another successful Godber rendition to Oxford, and I hope that she emulates the success of last term’s “Bouncers”. However, much of the movement seems devised, and with a little more direction the talented cast could put together something quite special. Chances are that issues with script and staging are likely to be resolved by the performance in sixth week. It’s difficult to do Godber badly – cracking writing which succeeds in being both heartfelt and humorous guarantees that the show will indeed be entertaining– but with a little more time, and a little more polish, Morley’s Teechers may well excel.