Edinburgh Fringe 2019
“The lesson that changed his life. A school in struggle and strife. A government that uses a knife.”
Vibrant solo show with astute new writing delves into one man’s dilemma about a career he loves, what it becomes and how his life is affected by it. TEACH, is written and performed by Matthew Roberts and directed by Helen Tennison.
This dramatic and human 50-minute play is based on Roberts’ own story about the early influences of people in his life and how they inspired him to spread his wings beyond his humble beginnings. Roberts builds a world, populates it with characters and becomes each one with superb immersive acting. His world becomes the idealistic world of teachers, teaching students – and concerns for the ever-changing landscape.
In TEACH Roberts takes us on a journey through his experiences that lead him from a young boy to who he is today, such as hearing about Mrs. Rymer’s trip to China when he was eight years old, a trip he went on to Norway as a teenager with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, and bullying taunts about being gay, as an adult. He also recalls brief anecdotes about his aim to inspire his students, such as teaching his state secondary school students in a challenging area of London about literature and Shakespeare. When Benedict Cumberbatch visited this secondary school class to watch Roberts’ students perform a choral delivery of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech, for The South Bank Show – filmed by Sky Arts, after which Cumberbatch exclaimed that he was deeply moved by the achievement in understanding of the text and performance by the young people Roberts taught.
Roberts is a perceptive writer, with his own style. He brings characters to life with the essence of every day dialogue, creates vivid description with an economy of well chosen words and infuses humour, pathos, wit – and unique zippy rhyming phases that are gone within a flash! Effecively directed by Tennison, Roberts uses his voice, gestures, physicality, and expert timing with a heartfelt emotive pacing that flows seamlessly and builds to the end.
Roberts really talks to us, he is personable with an easy presence, he is a friend, a colleague and then he tells us how it is in no uncertain terms! Holding a well- worn yellow and red covered paperback book several times in the show, Roberts quotes statistics from educator and author Dr. Emma Kell’s book, How to Survive in Teaching: Without imploding, exploding or walking away. The examples from the data are surprising and dire.
Roberts asks the audience to vote on whether he should continue teaching. For teaching today has changed, students have changed, governments and education policies have also changed. While the world progresses teachers now deal with challenges ranging from the perennial lack of funding and continual cuts to lack of support for threatening situations in the classrooms. Therefore, we must ask, who is looking after the teachers?
I reviewed two previous shows written and performed by Roberts at prior Edinburgh Fringes for Fringe Review: Sunny Runny Runcorn about the challenges, warmth and joys growing up in Runcorn, and last year’s Canoe about gay parenting and tragic loss. In TEACH I recognize the genuine sincerity and skill in his performance and the relatable detail in the writing from both of his previous shows – but TEACH touches a nerve in Roberts and provocatively brings out new levels of crafting, insight and visceral acting.
If you are a parent see this show, if you are going to be a parent, or know a teacher then see this show! In fact, the changes in education are not limited to the UK and it would bode well for our future to listen to the plight of teachers, their real challenges and their resulting stress and mental health issues in spite of their dedication to the field.
TEACH is a poignant, meaningful, compelling, dynamic, entertaining, well-crafted and well-performed solo play about teachers and teaching that resonates, it is not only highly recommended but it is also a Must See Show!