Brighton Fringe 2010
From the writer of Kill Cats! and Carry On Drinking comes a tale of teaching, and a comedic dissertation on life, learning, and the struggle to do it all properly. Thomas gives a leaving speech at his school that becomes a reflection and the good, and ugly of being a Humanities teacher.
Performance Appraisal for Andy Thomas, humanities teacher, comedy writer and performer: Thomas recounts the tales of humanities teaching, playing a teacher and therapising himself in the process.
The basement "Cella" space is a darkish but intimate setting for a direct conversation with the audience, punctuated by interventions and verbal altercations with the spirit of Kenneth Williams. This show is in essence comedy storytelling, a vessel for Thomas’s own skills as a talented writer that brought forth Kill Cats! And Carry on Drinking. And Andy Thomas tells his tales with a sharp observational wit. The angst of the man is funny, his style is nervy, never still, and there’s an urgency about him to get his material across. It all adds up to an hour that flies by.
This is really a treatise on the loss of the spirit from teaching, now a world of paper-pushing and targets. Thomas is a teacher who wants to be taken seriously and cleverly uses humour as the tool to achieve that goal.. He likens teaching to stage performance with "a guaranteed
audience" and "five shows a day."
Thomas, on his last day, addresses his audience of peers and he sees dead Carry On stars. Step forward Kenneth Williams, played with outstanding skill and impersonation by Colin Elmer. Williams is his devils advocate played with studied brilliance (surely award-worth as a supporting actor),challenging Thomas rewrite his leaving speech in a more authentic way. The banter between Thomas and Williams borders on genius writing, quickfire verbal comedy that had the audience laughing consistently throughout.
The style is anecdotal and some of the tales have more punch than others. I feel the punchlines and gags sometimes detract from a narrative that doesn’t need cheap laughs to get the audience laughing. The audience are with Thomas, and the laughter comes from the excellent observation and the stories, not gags.
Clearly the teachers in the audience loved it. There were nods of recognition from more than a few of the audience. Thomas has explored some not-often examined territory with a well structured script, that reaches a touching conclusion.
Inventive use of Television and radio shows that starred or nearly starred twenty-years-dead Williams was clever and original. My particular favourite was "Willow the Wisp", which was such a clever mix of stage and screen in the way it was realised.
A very strong show indeed. Highly recommended. And now for the result: An alpha for effort from two very impressive performers, as well as top marks for sharp and witty writing.
At times hilarious, at times moving, occasionally too self-referential, and at the end, powerful and touching. There’s a lesson for us all from this sharp, witty production. Essential for teachers and highly recommended even if you aren’t.