Perfect for the young, despite its age

REVIEW / THEATRE

THOSE WHO CAN'T, TEACH

The Necessary Stage

Drama Centre Theatre/ Thursday

An endearing jumble of memories untangles on stage in The Necessary Stage's revival of Those Who Can't, Teach.

There are the memories of an overworked teacher (played by Karen Tan) and her troubled former student (Joshua Lim), recalling his bittersweet time in a fictional neighbourhood school.

  • BOOK IT /THOSE WHO CAN’T, TEACH

  • WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, 05-01 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Until March 19,8pm (Wednesdays to Fridays),3pm and 8pm (Saturdays),3pm (Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $28, $36, $45 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

There are the memories of playwright Haresh Sharma and director Alvin Tan - not just their own teaching experience, but also their 30 years of creating theatre for Singapore.

In this script, first staged in 1990 and updated in 2010, is mockery of Singaporean snobbery against plays and people using Singlish. There is commentary on a so-called meritocracy that rewards rote learners over those who think. There is unflinching reflection of a society that relies on, yet despises, dispatch drivers and food-stall owners - never mind that they too can be entrepreneurs.

The cast, including Lian Sutton and Siti Khalijah Zainal, juggle multiple roles. Ghafir Akbar stands out with his portrayals of a hobbling Malay teacher, a boisterous student who tries to get Lim's character back on the straight and narrow, and an enterprising stall-owner who wants to train the school students to use computers and manage a business. This is to the discomfort of Tan's starched class expectations - he is not a teacher, after all.

Class wars, ethnic prejudice: There is a lot happening here and two hours is not enough time to develop it all.

The structure adds to the confusion. Scenes switch between past and present and between the points of view of the teachers and the students, all played by the same five performers.

The revolving set by Wong Chee Wai seems unnecessary and the soundtrack, featuring local music from artists such as Gentle Bones and I Am David Sparkle, is not always in tune with the mood.

But the dialogue is perfectly pitched for the student audience. They laugh and moan and sigh along with the jokes, jeers and lovesickness the teenage characters display on stage.

The young viewers even listen respectfully when the cast switches to adult roles, perhaps coming to grips with the idea that teachers are human beings with their own problems.

If there is a lesson here, it is that young adults need to see more of themselves reflected on stage.

Luckily, this year has a bumper crop of drama about misfits in secondary school, such as Dream Academy's just-concluded Detention Katong and the upcoming restaging of Normal by Checkpoint Theatre. Those Who Can't, Teach fits in perfectly, despite its age.

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Perfect for the young, despite its age'. Print Edition | Subscribe