REVIEW: Teechers Leavers ’22, Hull Truck Theatre and John Godber Company, at Hull Truck Theatre, term ends on June 11 *****

Teenage rampage: Martha Godber’s Hobby, left, Levi Payne’s Salty and Purvi Parmar’s Gail in Teechers Leavers ’22 at Hull Truck Theatre

ON learning that Gavin Wilkinson was to receive a Boris Johnson-garlanded knighthood, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson commented: “He left children to go hungry, created two years of complete chaos over exams and failed to get laptops out to kids struggling to learn during lockdowns.”

If reading her end-of-term report on Wilkinson’s “astonishing and disgraceful record” brings out feelings of anger all over again, then multiply that fury in John Godber’s 35th anniversary re-write of Teechers, his despairing 1987 tragi-comedy on the rotten state of state education.

To mark the 50th anniversary of his former Hull Truck stamping ground, he has revisited Teechers in the stultifying shadow of Covid, the encouragement of science and technology over the arts on the school curriculum and the never-ending systemic inequalities that divide swish private education establishments from state schools with leaking, outdated buildings.

Central character Salty, one of those pupils with no laptop, is doing his homework on his mobile phone: perhaps the most damning image in Teechers Leavers ’22.

Godber, the miner’s son from Upton, West Yorkshire, educated at Bretton Hall College and Leeds University, is a former teacher with not only Teechers to his name, but also Chalkface, the 1991 TV drama series charting the day-to-day events at a comprehensive school.

“How come people get education so wrong?” he said in an interview in 2008 when launching an earlier revival of his classroom comedy that dismissed the Labour Government’s latest proposed tinkering as nothing more than “rearranging the chairs on the Titanic”.

Lessons learned? Not since 1987, it would seem, as John Godber revisits Teechers to deliver an even more damning report

Labour Government, note. His righteous anger goes beyond party lines, even if, 14 years later, his frustration with England’s education system has reached boiling point under Tory rule. Exacerbated by the pandemic, state education equals: exam chaos, tech poverty, isolation, absenteeism, lost school hours, remote learning, the arts downgraded, children let down, he says.

Plus ca change, you might say. Teechers was rooted in Godber’s response to them-and-us education in the Thatcher years, but it does not feel a period piece at all, partly through grievances aplenty from 1987 still applying in  2022, and partly because of Godber’s extensive update.

His trademark fast-and-furious physical theatre style; his Brechtian love of breaking down theatre’s fourth wall; his deployment of a high-energy cast of only three to play multiple roles; his relish for social comment and his penchant for bloody-minded, bloody-nosed, raucous humour are all very much alive and kicking in Teechers Leavers ’22.  So too is preference for pathos over sentimentality.

Hull Truck artistic Mark Babych matches him stride for stride in his up-and-at’em direction, and 35 years since Godber himself played drama teacher Geoff Nixon, now his daughter Martha Godber is doing so, the role newly turned female.

Covid masks, Ofsted reports and a Partygate joke feature now, but funding shortages, baffling timetables, boring teachers and bored teenagers remain, as Martha Godber’s Hobby, Purvi Parmar’s Gail and Levi Payne’s Salty narrate the tale of their stultifying life at struggling comprehensive Whitewall College.

Set designer Caitlin Mawhinney splashes the set with bold colours, as a counter to the greyness that pervades the school, but if, in the words of Madness’s schoolroom anthem Baggy Trousers, there needs to be someone “trying different ways to make a difference to the days,” step forward new probationary teacher, Miss Nixon.

School uniformity? Not if Levi Payne’s Salty, Martha Godber’s Hobby and Purvi Parmar’s Gail have their way in Teechers Leavers ’22

Having seen off three previous drama teachers, scathing Salty and co are initially dismissive of the newcomer, but even if theatre has been relegated to an after-school option, Miss Nixon is not to be beaten.

The role previously had been played in more serious mode; Martha Godber makes her no-nonsense, but also more of a grouchy outsider, a lone voice, determined to help the three disillusioned teenage protagonists blossom.

Nixon remains John Godber’s voice too, calling for change, for better recognition of the importance of the arts in shaping young lives, but the ending becomes a more damning statement than ever with its abandonment of all hope.

Or maybe not. In his interview, Godber said if he were a young man today, he would still go into teaching, a profession that needs more Miss Nixons, more John Godbers.

Mark Babych and his cast, switching from role to role, sometimes even taking over each other’s roles, never letting the pace drop, dipping into rap, equally adept at troubled teenager and exasperated, exhausted teacher alike, make Godber’s school report all the more powerful. Oh, and amid the rage, it is seriously funny too.

Box office: 01482 323638 or

Back on-song Fascinating Aida never tire of satire after four decades of topical bite

Liza Pulman, left, Dillie Keane and Adele Anderson raise a glass to Fascinating Aida returning to the stage. Picture: Johnny Boylan

SATIRICAL cabaret trio Fascinating Aida are heading for their 40th anniversary next year.

How they will celebrate remains under wraps, but the comedy singing group’s founder, Dillie Keane, is delighted to be back on the road for 61 winter and spring dates with key writing partner Adele Anderson, who joined in 1984, and Liza Pulman, who first teamed up in 2004.

Among the shows will be York Barbican on Saturday and Scarborough Spa Theatre on May 13.

“We first toured this new show in the autumn, and it was such a relief. It felt like going home,” says 69-year-old Irish actress, singer, pianist, comedian and columnist Dillie.

“Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed in the wings, thinking ‘’I’m home’. I love being backstage too and all the routine that goes with that.

“After nearly four decades, I’m enjoying it as much as ever, having started the group as something to do when we weren’t acting!”

During lockdown, Dillie penned three songs that she posted on YouTube. “I’m not one for livestreaming,” she says. “There’s something depressing about seeing people performing a ‘show’ from their bedroom.

“Instead, I wrote these rather bitter and angry songs. There was one about Cummings ‘wanting all us old people to die’ [Song For Dominic Cummings], and one about Gavin Williamson ‘stuffing up the education system’ [Song For Gavin Williamson].

“Then, Nothing To Do Blues (‘and all day to do it in’), that came about from the moment when I was queueing in a little farm shop and a chap turned round and said, ‘Sorry, I’m taking ages’, and I said, ‘that’s OK, I’ve got nothing to do’. I got that one properly edited and made a little film of it.”

Those songs will not feature in Fascinating Aida’s set. “No, they were of the moment and they would only have been in my solo show,” says Dillie.

She had anticipated spending her pandemic-enforced hiatus from the stage rather differently. “I always felt in my year off, ‘I’ll write my autobiography’; ‘I’ll write the novel of my dreams’; ‘I’ll read [James Joyce’s] Ulysses and Proust’…

… “Well, I did start Proust – I’m halfway through the first book! – and I listened to 13 Anthony Trollope stories read by Timothy West and enjoyed some audio books, and I grew a lot of vegetables. I’ve now used almost all the courgettes; pounds and pounds of them.”

Experiencing the Nothing To Do Blues, Dillie missed seeing shows as much as she missed playing them. “It broke my heart,” she says. “I will go and see anything. I’m very eclectic. High opera. Low opera. Mongolian throat singers. Anything you can name.

“Not being able to see stuff was a killer – then someone told me it took 18 years to reopen theatres after the plague.”

From 1984’s Sweet FA to 2012’s Cheap Flights and onwards, Fascinating Aida have captured the political and social fixations of our times. For 2022, Fascinating Aida’s cabaret compound will combine “old favourites, songs you haven’t heard before and some you wish you’d never heard in the first place” as Dillie, Adele and Liza are joined by musical director, composer and pianist Michael Roulston, under the direction of Paul Foster (whose credits include Kiss Me, Kate and Annie Get Your Gun at Sheffield Crucible).

“I think there are several reasons for our longevity, and one of them is that we’ve always had a director for our shows, which is incredibly important,” says Dillie. “You should have someone on the outside to say, ‘no, this is better’.

“Working with a director makes it sharper focused, and we now have the wonderful Paul Foster, who I worked with on another project [a solo show off-Broadway and on tour].”

Summing up Fascinating Aida’s chemistry that will be clicking once more from January 29 to June 20, Dillie says: “We’re terribly finickity, driving each other crackers!  But when we get a line right, when we’re together in Liza’s kitchen, or mine, it’s wonderful.

“Like when we were writing a song about one thing, and Adele came up with a few lines that were nothing to do that but were all to do with ‘fake news’, I thought, ‘that’s awfully good, we should use that for the opening song’.

“We stopped what we’re doing and wrote the new song in full, writing everything in black and white terms: that’s how True True True Or Fake News came about.”

Further assessing the trio’s bond, Dillie says: “A very silly sense of humour helps too. That’s never changed. People come up after a show and say, ‘have you been hiding in my kitchen? You are singing about my life’.

“We’ve also never been starry. We’ve been relentlessly down to earth; there’s a genuine rootedness about us, and we’ve never been seduced by the idiotic side of showbiz.”

One other factor lies behind Fascinating Aida’s continuing success. “Satirical songs are different to doing stand-up, where the rules of comedy say you’re not allowed to repeat old jokes, but though a song like Cheap Flights is no longer topical, people still sit there in hysterics,” says Dillie.

“Songs are a different discipline altogether. Give us a stand-up script and we wouldn’t be very good at it, so we say, ‘let’s keep the chatter to a minimum; let’s stick to the songs’ as we seem to be rather good at them!”

Fascinating Aida, York Barbican, Saturday (12/2/2022) and Scarborough Spa Theatre, May 13, both at 7.30pm. Box office: York,; Scarborough, 01723 376774 or

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