Saddleworth Players

Funny and fast-paced drama in Delph

John Godber’s ‘Teechers’ at Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, is a multi-character play set in 1980s ‘special priority’ Whitewall, a tough comprehensive school where the kids are disengaged and the staff refer to it as Colditz, as they desperately seek an escape route.

Here we meet Salty, Hobby and Gail – about to leave Whitewall and inspired by new drama teacher Mr Nixon to give an end-of-school play to show everyone what their life is like and the many characters in their school. As they present a play within a play and invite us to use our imaginations, there follows a fast-paced and funny play where three actors switch effortlessly between 20 characters or more.

Liz Travis offers great comic timing in her assured performance of a range of teachers and pupils we can all recognise, from the strict Mr Basford, whose policy is to ‘hit them low and hard’ to the scatty Mikado-obsessed head teacher Mrs Parry, and the ADHD suffering Hobby.

Helen Dawson brings wonderful energy and confidence to each character, moving fluently from bouncy PE teacher Miss Prime practicing push-ups in the staff room to curmudgeonly broom-pushing caretaker Doug, sweeping everyone off his buffed floors, to the nasty school bully Oggy Moxton. In the role of new drama teacher Mr Nixon, amongst others, John Hoyle gives an assured and very convincing performance, easily conveying his initial enthusiasm and its slow erosion as disinterested kids, threatening boys, infatuated girls, and petty rivalries in the staff room take their toll. He can’t even find a chair to sit in at break time.

It is through the idealistic Mr Nixon that we hear Godber’s call for all kids to receive the same high standard of education no matter how much money their parents have or where they live, but it all falls on deaf ears. As contemplates the ethics of applying for a job at the ‘posh’ St George’s school and teaching in a ‘proper’ drama studio instead of begging scraps of time in the over-booked Whitehall gym, we really understand Nixon’s dilemma - even as the hopeless English teacher urges ‘when you see a hole in the fence, go for it’.

Director Colin Green deftly maintains the fast pace and energy that this quick-fire play demands using speedy changes, minimal setting and an energetic 80s soundtrack to good effect. Stand out scenes are the expertly-choreographed Ninja rescue team, launched from the staff room, and a school disco clinch under a twirling mirror ball to the strains of George Michael.

Saddleworth Players have presented a realistic and funny play with a serious message at its heart, but one that’s good fun from start to finish with excellent performances. The cast is confident, the direction assured, and the audience laughed all the way through the opening night. Well worth seeing while you still have the chance.

‘Teechers’ by John Godber runs from 28 January – 4 February 2017 at Millgate Arts Centre, Delph.

JLT, Jan 30, 2017