An interview with John Godber on Teechers Leavers ’22

John Godber talks about Teechers Leavers ’22, which runs at Hull Truck Theatre from Thursday 19 to Saturday 11 June.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, what’s the show about?

The play dramatises the impact of the teaching of Drama in schools, by employing the play within the play format. It is especially concerned with stimulating the imaginations of young people in state education.

Why did you decide to reimagine Teechers for Hull Truck’s 50th anniversary programme?

Mark Babych, Artistic Director at Hull Truck Theatre, contacted me and said he was putting together an anniversary programme which would tell Hull Truck Theatre’s story – from its inception through to the present day. He asked if I’d like to write something new, but I told him the idea of bringing Teechers – a production first performed by the Hull Truck Theatre Company back in 1987 – up to date had been on my mind for some time.

Since I left Hull Truck, I’ve maintained links with schools in and around the East Riding of Yorkshire and I could see that despite more than 35 years having passed since Teechers was first performed, so many themes and issues explored in the play were still relevant. During lockdown my daughter Martha, who is an actress, set up a foundation to help young people from East Yorkshire break into the acting industry, and through this I could see first-hand the devastating impact the pandemic has had on young people and their education. It seemed the perfect time to revisit this story for a new generation.

Who is this play for?

Anyone who has been to school. Perhaps not for Conservative Secretary of States for Education.

What is your favourite memory, centred around being a teacher yourself, working in schools?

Teaching Drama develops empathy, without which we are an increasingly isolated and self-centred society. Drama gets us off our phones and on our feet. It is from the Greek Dramanon: action!

How did you go about researching the production?

Hull Truck Theatre’s team put together a cohort of teachers from across Hull and I spent many hours speaking to them about issues facing them and the young people they teach today. I also spoke to many students to find out how they felt – especially in the wake of the pandemic – and the impact this had had not only on their education but their prospects once they leave school.

A lot has changed, awareness around mental health, the importance of safeguarding – how social media impacts every facet of their lives. But a lot has stayed the same – especially in terms of the marginalisation of the arts in state schools, which if anything is worse now than when I first wrote the play in the ’80s.

Why did you decide to have multi-rolling actors, instead of a large cast?

It was a style I had become known for, especially after the worldwide success of Bouncers. It gave the actors the chance to play virtuoso roles.

What are the biggest changes/themes you had to include in this reimagined version?

Obviously, the language has changed, teenagers now have a whole new vernacular which had to be incorporated to make the characters seem real and authentic. I also changed the Drama teacher character from male to female. Quite simply this is because when I wrote the play, I based that character on myself and my experience as a Drama teacher. But now I have two daughters – one of whom is an actress in this production – the other has a PHD in Gender Studies – so I thought it’d be interesting to make that character female. Also, and this may have just been a coincidence, but many of the teachers I spoke to were women, so it made sense to write it as a female role.

The impact of the pandemic is also a big theme as I feel it put the whole education system – and its failings especially for working class students – under a microscope. Digital poverty is a huge issue now and students not being able to access the internet via a computer or phone during lockdown meant for many, they couldn’t access their education for a major portion of the last two years. The repercussions of this are huge – isolation, loss of communication skills, diminishing attention spans. However, I truly believe that harnessing the power of storytelling – whether that’s through writing or acting – is a way of overcoming these problems, which is another reason the arts should be a priority now more than ever and why this particular story resonates so much still today.

How has this version of Teechers differed from the 1987 play and how do you think it has shaped the outcome of it?

This is a different Teechers, contemporary, exciting, shot through with recent developments in state education, and undeniably affected by Covid, postcode exam result lottery and digital poverty. However, it is certainly still about three difficult, truculent working-class students who have found their powerful voice through drama!

What hasn’t changed?

Actually, a lot of themes remain the same. We still have a bizarre relationship with drama in state schools, it’s just not prioritised and increased cuts to funding for the arts has meant those subjects have been marginalised more than ever.

It’s such a shame as this production, just like the original, explores how the dramatic arts can unleash imagination and potential. Drama teaches empathy, decision making, the ability to create something from nothing. It demonstrates just how much can be learnt when you get out from behind a desk.

What can people expect to feel and why should they come and see Teechers Leavers ‘22?

If we marginalise the arts in state education, which we are doing currently, generations to come will be poorer, less able to work together and have a self-centred, unsympathetic attitude to life.

Why do you think it’s important that this production is part of Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary programme?

I think this is important as this production was originally performed by Hull Truck Theatre Company – so it’s interesting to bring it full circle. It’s my most performed work – partly because the simplicity of the staging, the three-person cast, the stripped back aesthetic, meant it was easy to perform everywhere from classrooms to theatres. Also, despite a strong Northern voice, it spoke to audiences across the world in so many ways – to those who were or are teachers and students – which covers just about everyone.

It also embodies what Hull Truck Theatre is all about – telling stories which have their roots very much in the local community with the heart and humour that we’re known for – but which reflect much wider societal and economic issues as well. I hope that this production will speak to a whole new generation and continue to see the play performed in theatres, village halls and classrooms for years to come.

What are your hopes for the future of Hull Truck Theatre?

I’ve always said – a city is only as good as its football team and theatre. I hope people continue to support the theatre which brings to life stories that reflect the incredible people of this part of the country – so that it can continue to nurture and cultivate home-grown talent and find new, authentic voices to bring a whole new generation of stories to the stage.

If you could sum up the show in three words, what would they be?

Contemporary. Exciting. Theatrical!

SHOW INFO – Teechers Leavers ‘22  

Dates: Tuesday Thursday 19 May – Saturday 11 June 2022

Tickets: £28.50 – £10

Access Performances

Touch Tour: Tuesday 31 May, 6pm

Audio Described: Tuesday 31 May, 7.30pm

Captioned Performance: Thursday 2 June, 7.30pm

Relaxed Performance: Saturday 4 June, 2pm

BSL Performance: Tuesday 7 June, 7.30pm

Socially Distanced Performance: Wednesday 8 June, 7:30pm

On Demand: Thursday 2 – Saturday 18 June

Post Show Q&A: Wednesday 1 June, After 7.30pm show

Recommended age 12+

Box office information:

Hull Truck Theatre, 50 Ferensway, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, HU2 8LB

01482 323638