Written by Kirsty Budding
Directed by Cate Clelland
Free Rain Theatre
Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre
Review by Len Power 25 October 2015
In ‘The Art Of Teaching Nothing’, the teaching profession comes in for some heavy satire. In an Australian high school, every teacher is incompetent, conniving, corrupt, sexually predatory or displaying a host of behavioural problems that would make the students seem more adult! A new teacher arrives and seems decent, down to earth and idealistic. We observe her trying to survive in this crazy place but she has her own problems, too, keeping secret the fact that she’s dyslexic and trying to teach English.
It’s meant to be a satire and characters and situations are exaggerated as you would expect. This would be fine but what is presented isn’t grounded in reality and that makes it all uninvolving. A lengthy interrogation scene is totally over the top and unbelievable. In addition, the real relationships are damaged by contrived revelations towards the end of the play.
The actors generally do rather well with the material they have to work with. There are good performances from Rob De Fries as the Principal, Brendan Kelly as Paul, the art teacher, Glynis Stokes as the idealistic new teacher and Liz Bradley as Mary, the elderly Maths teacher who can’t handle computers. Emma Wood, Marti Ibrahim and Arran McKenna either had unplayable cartoon caricatures to deal with in the script or just played them that way. Whichever it was, it didn’t work and I would have expected the director to sort that out.
The set, designed by the director, Cate Clelland, is very wide, making actors hard to hear at times and they were often forced to make awkward moves around the staff room table with the limited space available. In addition, one unlucky patron sitting at a table close to the stage was sprayed with liquid from an actor’s mouth.
The play is far too long and could easily lose two or three characters and their subplots. The author, Kirsty Budding, does have a flair for comic writing and some of her one-liners are quite droll. There is some good writing here, especially at the beginning but the last half of the second act needs some serious re-consideration.
By the end of the show it had ceased to be funny and it was impossible to care about the message or the characters.
Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program at 9.00am on Saturdays.