Coincidentally, over the weekend Channel 4 was showing the 1971 film of the old TV sitcom Please Sir!, there was Joan Sanderson, the anally retentive headmistress, Deryck Guyler, the obstructive caretaker, and John Alderton, the fresh-faced humanities teacher; and there they all were again, in 1987, in Teechers, now revived yet again to celebrate John Godber's 20th year as Hull Truck's director.
The actors are different now, of course, poached from regional television and all multi-roling in Godber's rather watered-down version of physical theatre. In addition to the aforementioned stereotypes they also take on a stash of others, from school bully, to girls gagging for snogs and leching after Sir, to embittered deputy head teacher and much-reviled PE teacher. And, of course, the new drama teacher who tries to engage with and enthuse the no-hopers he's faced with.
Godber didn't waste too long teaching before channelling all his disillusion into Teechers. He rails against the streaming of the unacademic into sink schools whilst those with the cash can buy fancy educations for their kids - and it's a perfectly fair point, but it wasn't new or original in either 1971 or 1987; and it does come clunking down in what is supposedly a light comedy.
The show contains plenty of minutely observed comedy - of the amiable rather than the hilarious kind - and Godber is never short of wit. Of his cast he is served best by Matthew Booth, who has a lightness of touch and inventiveness rather lacking in the performances of Jennifer Ness and Vicky Binns - neither of whom is inadequate, but neither of whom lifts her performance beyond the blandness required for acting on the box.
Godber is an enigma. The second most successful playwright in the current British theatre (after Ayckbourn), he is, like Arnold Wesker, a virtual stranger to the metropolis (his last London award was the Olivier for Up'n'Under in 1984) and yet, like Wesker's, his plays are performed regularly throughout the world - not to mention on tour in the UK. His better titles are constantly revisited, often revised and regularly revived in his own theatre in Hull; and he has an enviable stack of honorary doctorates, fellowships and a professorship from regional universities. It is appealing to think that he is perhaps cocking a snook at the irrelevance of intra-M25 taste: with Teechers, I fear, he simply hasn't come up with a good enough piece.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at Hull Truck Theatre)