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Those Who Can’t, Teach…Full Marks!

May 20, 2010

This modern take on the classic by The Necessary Stage scores clear distinctions on all accounts

Event: Those Who Can’t, Teach (as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2010)
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 19th May – 21st May 2010

Before I begin the review proper, let me first start with my usual irrelevant rants.

What is it with people and their (i)phones???

I know we live in an age whereby we can’t be separated from our phones, but c’mon…you can’t even leave your phone alone for a 100-minute play?


Is the message that important that you need to respond to it throughout the play?

Y’know, it really isn’t a big deal…but having that glare of an active (i)phone screen at the corner of my eye every time the theatre goes dark really irks me.

And this happens all the time.

At every show.

At any given moment, there will be someone somewhere in the theatre working on that all-important message.

(You know because the glare is just so obvious in a sea of darkness.)

Seriously, people?

Can’t we just shut it off for less than two hours?

I think that billion-dollar deal that you’re busy working on could afford to wait just that teeny bit longer.

Ok, sorry for the grumpiness.

On to the review proper…

Proper Review Starts Here

What a great way to start my Singapore Arts Festival this year.

Rare is the play that I’ve seen that scores brilliantly on all accounts and leaves me thoroughly mesmerised, and “Those Who Can’t, Teach” written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan has done just that.

Some plays score high on sheen and humour, but low on substance.

“Those Who Can’t, Teach” has both.

I dare say this is definitely my favourite play of the year thus far.

I highly recommend that you go catch it, because it’s such an enjoyable and wonderfully-constructed play.

And I guarantee that if you’re a teacher, you’d love it a hundred times more!

(I’m not a teacher, but I can see how teachers would totally lap it up.)

So, forget about reading any further…if you’ve not bought your tickets, just go buy them NOW.

(However, this play runs only till Friday, so even if you want to buy tickets after reading this, I’m not sure if you will be able to get your hands on them. But at least I did my best to tell you.)

The play is a modern take on school life, both from the perspective of teachers and students.

It was first staged in 1990, but it is apparent that many updates have been made to the play to make it more relevant in the age of Facebook and laptops and handphones and SMS.

It touches on issues which are pertinent to anyone in the education sector, from high-flying scholars to the amount of admin work that has to be done to the school politics to the challenges in dealing with schoolkids these days to the issues that a young student in a neighbourhood school has to deal with growing up.

The lines were just hilarious, and it’s amazing how they could pack so many incredible lines in one single play.

(I use the word “they” because a good proportion of the script was devised by the actors as well, because we were told in the post-show dialogue session that this was largely a collaborative effort by the actors, writer and director.)

Many of the lines rang so true, and that’s what made them so hilarious.

A lot of research was done by Haresh and the team, and it really shows in the realism of the script.

I reckon there were a good number of education professionals in the audience, because they seemed to lap up a lot of the teacher-centric jokes.

(In fact, I think the bunch next to me were teachers…cos some of them were literally shrieking at some of the jokes.)

One of my favourite lines in the play was when Neo Swee Lin said: “You’re getting married this June? Mine was in December. We teachers can only get married either in June or December.”

That really brought the house down, mainly because it’s so true!

Anyone who knows teachers would attest to how true that is. =)

I guess a big reason why “Those Who Can’t, Teach” was so beloved by the audience is because it showed so much of what life is really like working in Singapore’s education system, and this totally resonated with the audience.

Even if you’re not an education professional, you would still know what it’s like because you’d probably have friends who are education professionals.

I don’t think you’d find another local play that delves so deeply into the topic of Singapore’s education system as this play does.

It depicted the harsh realities of working in an MOE school and the pressures of having to attain lofty standards set by higher-ups.

It also asked the question of whether a teacher’s job is just to teach, or if a teacher is also morally-obligated to be a role model as well.

Where does one draw the line?

Neo Swee Lin portrayed a longsuffering teacher from a neighbourhood school who had spent her entire life teaching and trying to mould students into becoming better people…but at the end of the day, it seems like she spent so much time helping others, but she never had time to help herself.

Ian Tan plays a wide-eyed PE teacher who is fresh from NIE, and starts to realise that NIE never taught him anything about how to survive in the real world, and neither did it teach anything about how to single-handedly organise a Sports Day.

Soon, he realises that all the essential lessons of being a real MOE teacher were never taught in NIE.

Special mention must go to Siti Khalijah and Najib Soiman for their excellent comic delivery, without which the play might not have been as hilarious and enjoyable as it was.

They were simply a sight to behold, with all the various roles they took on.

If there was just one thing I had to nitpick about the play, it was that in the second act, the play tended to jump back and forth in the timeline, and at times it made me a little bit confused, and I had to think a bit to try to piece together the whole actual timeline.

But nonetheless, congrats to The Necessary Stage and the production team behind “Those Who Can’t, Teach”.

I thought it was fantastic, and I wished that it would have run longer so that more Singaporeans can catch this beautiful piece of local theatre.

p.s. Just a small point – I thought the post-show dialogue could have been handled a bit better though. I think Haresh and Alvin did a good job being as forthcoming and accommodating as they could, but I think the rest of the team (including the moderator) could have perhaps done a slightly better job handling some of the audience members’ questions.

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