Agonised laughter in a staffroom black comedy

“Chalkface”… the popularity issue has been sturdy in audiences, with quite a lot of “oh, that occurred to me” reactions. Picture: Prudence Upton

A PLAY about considered one of Australia’s most underrated professions is about to take the stage at The Playhouse, and it’s sure to have major faculty academics falling about in agonised laughter.

“Chalkface,” written by Angela Betzien, is being touted by Sydney Theatre Firm and the State Theatre Firm SA as “a love letter to academics”, however after I meet up with Jessica Arthur, Sydney Theatre Firm’s resident director, she’s extra inclined to explain it as “a black comedy”.

Betzien, now an internationally-known author of performs reminiscent of “The Hanging”, “Egg”, “Helicopter” and “Kids of the Black Skirt” and a core author on “Whole Management”, has not written comedy earlier than, however based on Arthur, the topic has been on her thoughts for some time, since quite a lot of her greatest buddies are academics who’ve been telling her for years concerning the points raised.

Set within the right here and now in a staffroom of a public major faculty, it’s a type of naturalistic piece that works round on the outdated “newcomer” theme, the place a bright-eyed and bushy tailed new graduate with a masters, Anna, performed by Stephanie Somerville, comes into the staffroom. 

There she encounters a veteran instructor, performed by Catherine McClements, who’s been there for greater than 20 years and has a low opinion of her colleagues. The sparks fly. 

“It’s very quick paced, and we bounce round,” Arthur says. 

Dramatically there may be the older instructor going through off in opposition to the younger one, however there are all the opposite characters of the staffroom too, performed by Ezra Juanta, Michelle Ny and Nathan O’Keefe.

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Major faculty academics, Arthur says, are assailed with stereotypical views, the best-known being that it’s a bit of cake due to all the vacations. 

Not so. The questions of burnout, insufficient assets and lack of funding, self-discipline and getting studies finished all floor, though Arthur assures me that “at coronary heart, it’s actually stunning”.

“What the academics are doing, which is actually important, is one thing fairly stunning and deep, though academics could not really feel supported as they need to.”

A wierd type of humour about how we cope permeates the play, she says, and it feels very true, as a result of we snigger at issues which are arduous.

The message behind “Chalkface” is that each youngster is completely different, in order that faculties must cater for this and it questions how we’re educating, how our system works, tips on how to carry out one of the best in college students and whether or not specialised studying plans are the best way to go.

As effectively, with the antagonists – the workplace administrator, and the principal – there may be some commentary on hierarchy and division.

A pleasant contact, she says, is that one of many characters is the kindy music instructor and that permits for mild reduction.

To date, Arthur studies, the popularity issue has been very sturdy in audiences, with quite a lot of “oh, that occurred to me” reactions, particularly concerning the messy issues, reminiscent of children throwing up in school. 

“There’s quite a lot of muck in there,” she says. “However it’s very, very humorous… it’s Angela’s first comedy and she or he’s finished an awesome job.”

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Is there a contented ending? In fact she’s not about to say, but it surely definitely is about hope, about placing academics entrance and centre, about throwing mild on the system about what a spot of studying will be. 

There are not any solutions, but it surely affords an actual dialog, she says, including mysteriously that within the play there may be “a little bit of a thriller concerned when Anna stumbles throughout one thing that doesn’t appear proper”. 

“Chalkface”, The Playhouse, November 9-12.

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Ian Meikle, editor