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Theatre Review: ‘Those Who Can’t, Teach’

PlayPost Category - PlayPlay - Post Category - IndoorIndoor

Wondering what to see at the theatre? The Necessary Stage brings back its classic teachers’ tale with delight and passion.

To celebrate its 30th year, The Necessary Stage, a leading player in Singapore’s arts scene, has revived its much-acclaimed production, Those Who Can’t, Teach. It’s a theatrical piece that is distinctly Singaporean, capturing a unique Singaporean voice and rhythm, but with a universal and timeless message.

The story follows the lives of a group of teachers and students in a local school. It wrestles with all the expected dynamics – the pressures teachers face, the complexities of being a teenager and the part that parents play in the whole process – with humour, warmth and poignancy. But, while we get to know all the characters and their stories quite well, essentially this is a story of Mrs Phua – the dedicated teacher who gives up so much to help those who she feels she should – who provides the main thread.

Though first staged in 1990, then again in 2010, this production feels fresh and contemporary. The iPhones, selfies, Pokémon and “dabbing” make it so current that it’s hard to imagine what came before. And it was clear from the audience’s reaction, many of them students themselves, that whilst this production may have been telling an old story, it is as relevant and important today as it was almost 30 years ago.

The partnership between the artistic director of the Necessary Stage, Alvin Tan, and its prolific playwright, Haresh Sharma, is well documented. Their ongoing collaboration, garnered by mutual respect and understanding, is evident in such a highly-polished production.

The ensemble cast – all of whom are excellent – move seamlessly between each of their parts, jumping generations and place with ease. The set, costume and lighting design cleverly take the audience between staff room, sitting room and class room and even to a nightclub and back. And the music is perfectly pitched to create all the right effects and complement the mood and humour.

Alvin Tan’s program notes refer to the contradictions of the teaching profession; how it can be so meaningful on one hand but so punishing on the other. He refers too to the times we live in, plagued by fake news and self-reflection. It would be easy to dwell on these difficult and complex issues, ones we have all been likely to face at some point in our lives, or certainly will. But, what Those who can’t, teach cleverly does is tackle them all with just the right amount of humour and irreverence so, just as we are about to cry or despair, we smile and laugh right after.

Being in a theatre with a gaggle of teenagers isn’t normally how I would choose to see a show, but the infectious laughter of all the young girls around me and their clear connection with the story was endearing. At times, I felt like I was back at school, in the nicest possible way.

I left remembering the teachers I had had who were like Mrs Phua. There was one in particular, Mrs Auckinleck, who had given so much, so selflessly, and to so many. The memory of her made me smile and I made a mental note to get in touch. I needed to tell her that she wasn’t forgotten. And I wasn’t sure if I had ever properly said “thank you”.

Those Who Can’t, Teach is playing 15-18 March 2017 at 8pm, and on 18-19 March 2017 at 3pm at Drama Centre Theatre, 100 Victoria Street, Level 3, National Library Building, Singapore 188064. Click here to purchase tickets through Sistic

www.necessary.org

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