Fighting out of the Fringes: is ‘Posh’ good?
Steve Eaton Evans, sunglasses on head, welcomed me to Queen’s College in damp Taunton last week for a non-profit conference of drama teachers. Under the dark skies of the South of England and the dark times for drama teachers that have seen many of my colleagues take on less drama and even sometimes switching completely to other disciplines, drama teachers came together. Steve started by showing the thought-proving talk by Sir Ken Robinson for the RSA asking us to consider the difference between the aesthetic and anaesthetic in teaching students. The rest of the conference then continued by providing, a range of (mostly) excellent workshops that asked us to re-consider our teaching and sought to reinforce in us the very best possible approach in the classroom. NISDA truly seeks to provide a meeting place of teachers who want to induct their students into a creative world, an amazing world, a rigorous world where they get to question themselves and anyone else they fancy in a way that means they are present and alive: running and jumping and booming out loud, rather than sitting down simply receiving wisdom. The world of theatre. Something still as Britains we do well. Corden, whatever you think of him, has just won big in America. Great British theatres have had great recent successes and it was with this spirit of optimism after NISDA I went on to see Posh at the Duke of York’s, a play that started life in the home of great writing, The Royal Court. I went from workshops in wood-panelled rooms that aren’t saunas to a play that openly and unashamedly mocked the institutions that have them.
Queen’s College is an independent school and this was an independent schools’ conference but as a grammar school outsider I was welcomed with open arms: arms that flung wildly as Nick Brace recapped the rules of the long-standing drama favourite Zip-Zap-Boing (if you haven’t already played this game that eleven year-olds up and down the country seem oddly attracted to then pop it into Google before your next team building exercise) and arms that gracefully and specifically etched doors that came to life in Simon Godwin’s well-run workshop on the “language of gesture”. On return to the state sector for teaching on Monday though, my favourite staff room friends sought to reduce to stereotypes the world of Queen’s college and the conference, in the same way that Laura Wade’s Posh did. Our penchant for ridiculing those who we don’t fully understand is reflected in pretty much every echelon of society but Wade, as a playwright, has a greater imperative to display an even-handed and thoughtful approach. Any writer needs to transcend the obvious to be remembered outside of their time. Wade merely cashes in on her script’s fortunate sense of timing where posh boys take on pasties in government and no one in their right mind can defend those tax-payer funded duck houses. The script simply revels in easy mockery of the plummy tones of the country’s elite and encourages the audience to feel dirty about their ability to pay off people for their misdemeanours whilst simultaneously revelling in their own sense of youth and power.
Yes, at conference there were some vibrant, borderline terrifying, (sometimes sword-wielding, depending on workshop) eccentrics but they’ve seen the significant theatre landmarks of the last decade and the teachings of obscure theatre practitioners trip off their tongue in delight, to which facts many state school drama teachers compare incredibly poorly. Given a choice between a government-whim following hoop-jumping time-poor beleaguered teacher who cannot let their creativity loose on their students because Gove says we want to live in a nation peopled by unwilling Ebacc drones, and being laughed at for being able to recite Shakespeare by heart (in one of the toasts given at the meal that stands at the centre of Wade’s drama) or being able to give an excellent a capella rendition of Labrinth’s Earthquake (the high point of Posh) then I know which I’d choose. However, here I am falling into the trap of the stereotypes Wade milks for all their comic worth much to my chagrin but many of the audience’s cheap guffawing. We all end up becoming a caricature of ourselves from time to time, a thought that deeply struck me as in a hotel bar late on the second night the drama teachers postured, and preened, and even sung, whilst Steve grinned broadly in his dinner jacket (sunglasses still on head) but when you listened to the words being spoken everyone was talking about what matters greatly to them all and what their schools still recognise matters greatly to the cultural education of their students who need a rounded education to take on the world – theatre.
Phil lives and works as a drama teacher in the midlands. His views are his own and do not represent any business or institution he is connected to.
He is also co-director of www.roughfiction.com
He can be followed on twitter @philjcking
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