Productions of John Godber's Teechers are hardly in short supply so another does little to tickle the tastebuds, although this touring version is the Hull Truck pedigree variety. Gilly Tompkins, who created the role of Gilly in the original production in 1986, makes her directorial debut here. Tompkins manages to pass on her knowledge to the cast and show the many pretenders how Teechers should be done.
The backdrop of life in the crap Whitewall High comprehensive school and the comment on the role of drama in education is secondary, of course, to the minimalist brand of theatre that Godber was still intent on creating back in the 80s. On display is the frantic, high-octane style born out of replacing props, set and costume with physicality, snappy dialogue and smart one-liners. These were the days when Godber, sometimes out of budgetary necessity one imagines, had a hunger to find new ways of doing things.
It still looks good in the 90s and Tompkins has taught her new charges well. The cast of three has the simplistic (!) task of playing twenty-one characters between them. They do it very well; there is no room to hide in this work, no respite for a breather. Fiona Wass (Hobby), Emma Barron (Gail) and John McCraw (Salty) all appear to have boundless energy, vigorously flitting through the collection of classroom stereotypes. The diminutive Barron performs with a real sparkle in her eyes and makes getting a laugh look like a mere skip around the playground. And McCraw, who also gets to be Ronan Keating for a brief interlude of 'No Matter What' - the text being brought up to date with plenty of relevant cultural references including Austin Powers' Mini Me, new Labour's 'education, education, education' and Boyzone - has the kind of bendy facial features and gangly frame that are made for this style of theatre.
Godber's point is still relevant today. Godber's more recent Thick as a Brick treads pretty much the same ground but the difference is in how the point is presented. As good as it is, Thick as a Brick is a diatribe - Teechers works on a more sub-conscious and, yes, more entertaining level. Tompkins gets everything right; this looks like the beginning of something good, as well as a glance back at the glorious school days.
On national tour until 11 December.