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Steve Lamb - The school play

(December 01, 2015)

The school play

Cast of The Playboy of the Western World

I was walking back to the grammar school after teaching a maths lesson in the neighbouring secondary modern. September was showing off the contrasting faces of the valley. The green hills and blue skies were only marred by jets of steam and smoke from the coke works close to the colliery. It was all still new to me and I was not yet taking any of this world for granted. One of the games teachers caught up with me and we skirted the building site where the new comprehensive school was taking shape and crossed the rugby pitch. Gethin's company was always a joy. He had a fund of hilarious stories peppered with nuggets of good advice.

"So what do you do to show off your strengths to the kids? To impress them I mean?" he asked. I didn’t know how to answer him. An English teacher’s skills are not immediately obvious or necessarily impressive in the eyes of secondary school pupils. "I'll tell you what I do," he continued. "Every September when I take the first games lesson for the new intake, I line them up behind the posts over there." He pointed to the red-brick building in front of us and then spun round to face the building site. "This is a pocket handkerchief of a pitch. But the kids don't think that when they are eleven. I place the ball on the try line and then kick it the length of the field through the posts over there. They are so impressed. Their little eyes look at me as if I’m a magician. That bit of admiration remains somewhere in their minds and it's easier to teach if your classes think you’ve got something valuable they could learn from you. What do you do?"

 

Cast of The Playboy of the Western World Cast of The Playboy of the Western World

We had arrived at the side door to the science corridor before I could answer and we went to our separate classes. But his challenge remained biting at the back of my mind. I couldn't see what would naturally impress an eleven year old from the set of skills that an English teacher tries to develop. You couldn't imagine showing off skills in clause analysis, précis or paragraph structure. But I knew that Gethin had been making good sense. The subjects on the school curriculum were not valued instinctively by many of our pupils but teachers were. When a boy or girl believed in a teacher, their loyalty bred a love for learning and then helped to sketch a route for life after formal education.

I thought back to my time in school. One of my English teachers ran the school drama group and I had been involved in school productions from my first term. He had helped to foster my love of literature as well as encouraging me to get involved in amateur dramatics. He was an actor of real talent and could bring stories alive or transform himself into any number of characters as he inspired his classes to appreciate fine literature. The school where I was now a teacher was proud of its musical reputation. It had performed well-loved Gilbert and Sullivan works and there were regular concerts. However, there was no drama group and no school play each winter. That was something I could change.

Cast of The Playboy of the Western World

A poster on the sixth form notice board attracted a room full of eager young people keen to act or to be involved backstage. They had already been discussing the challenge between themselves and they wanted to put on one of the set texts that many of them were studying. The play would be J M Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. We agreed almost immediately to proceed if the headteacher was happy with the plan.

There were no objections and auditions went well. Fate must have been on our side because boys and girls just seemed to be made for the different parts. I wanted to juggle the text a little and set the story in Wales but I was outvoted. They were determined to deliver the script with Irish accents. That was part of the fun for them. And fun it was. We rehearsed at lunchtime, after school and on some Sunday afternoons. It was never a burden because they enjoyed themselves so much even when nerves were tingling close to the week of public performances.

Cast of The Playboy of the Western World

There was a core group of natural performers who were also involved in so many other school and community activities – and they continued to be academically successful. The captain of the school rugby team was the leading man and he also sang with one of the town's male voice choirs. That year he, along with another member of the cast, went on to win the duet competition at the Urdd Eisteddfod when it was held in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd. Both of these boys, middle aged men now, continue to perform professionally locally and nationally. It was a privilege to work with all of them and to stand on the stage with the cast after each of five sellout performances. Many years later, looking back on any number of school productions, it was the success of 'Playboy' that gave me the most pleasure.

It also achieved for me what Gethin had suggested every teacher needed. It meant that youngsters in school looked at me as if I had something to share with them that they could value - that my subject might be important after all. Perhaps I could pass on to them a key which would open a door to a future which was as yet unknown.

Steve Lamb, December 2015

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy Steve's previous stories:
          Corridor duty, September 2015
          End of an era, June 2015
          Teacher training, March 2015
          "... the best thing that happened to me in school", December 2014
          The punishment, September 2014
          The interview, June 2014

Steve Lamb is a retired teacher who lives in south Wales. In a career spanning more than forty years he worked as a teacher, local authority school improvement officer and inspector of education services for children and young people.

 

Steve Lamb - 2014 Steve Lamb - 1972
Steve Lamb ... now  ... and then (1972)

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