Tuesday 22nd September to Saturday 26th September 2009
Directed by Jacquie Penrose
Patrick is suffering in his job and his private life, and he badly needs comfort - female comfort. Summer is determined to complete her university degree, and if she can't get the money one way, she will try another. Their encounter is explosive for both of them.
The year is 2007. Tony Blair is abdicating from leadership of the Labour party leaving behind the after effects of 10 years of New Labour on Britain. The news is filled with stories of gang knife attacks, child suicides and family cruelty. Education, education, education is the cry from party headquarters, but in an era when University attendance is higher than ever before, how are the government's new policies on student funding affecting those who want to be part of the education revolution?
For those at the bottom of the income heap, funding is assured, for those with affluent families, the hardest decision is deciding whether or not to chill-out with student friends between lectures or party to the small hours. For those in the middle however (those families just well-off enough not to qualify for funding), the £20,000 it costs just to attend lectures is hardly languishing in their Swiss bank accounts. This play explores one student's answer to what other people might call "acceptable debt".
And at the younger end of the student scale, what of those bright hopes for our country's educational future? How do teachers cope when the children in front of them look more like Britney Spears or the Spice Girls? In a situation where "touch my bum" is emblazoned in the imperative on every other T-shirt and posting erotic pole dancing pictures of yourself on the internet is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to 13 and 14 year-olds wanting to "feel sexy" how can the average middle-aged teacher cope with society's increasing sexualisation of younger and younger girls?
13 is the new 16, 16 is the new 21 and in the context of a man experiencing the beginnings of a breakdown and a girl just starting on an addictive path she may ultimately find it hard to leave, we see at first hand how dangerous it can be when sexual desires become confused. When the 'off switch' that a man in a position of trust is supposed to have, starts to fail him, the consequences can be fatal.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. Roger Wallsgrove was nominated for 'Best Amateur Actor' for his portrayal of Patrick and Charmaine Barker was nominated for 'Best Amateur Actress' for her portrayal of Summer in The News 'Guide' Awards 2010.
|Stage Manager||Terry Smyth|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Sabrina Ash|
|Lighting Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Lighting Operation||Derek Callam|
|Sound Design||Sarah Parnell|
|Sound Operation||Derek Callam|
|Set Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Set Construction||Kevin West|
|Poster and Flier Design||Pete Woodward|
|Programme Editor||Derek Callam|
A Higher Education by Angela Pressland is the worthy winner of the Bench's 40th Anniversary Playwriting Competition. Directing it is a rare and welcome opportunity to work on a brand new play, with the added bonus of having the playwright on hand to offer comment, encouragement and insight. It is a different way of working; the play has no performance history, so all the decisions about interpretation are being made from scratch for the first time. In other productions, the director and cast can merrily launch into 'an interpretation' confident there is no one to contradict them. Here, there is another important voice - the playwright. She knows her script, knows what lay behind the characters and their words, knows why it is structured the way it is, knows what it is the play is trying to say. This becomes both a valuable resource and a challenge. What if we disagree? Which of course we do, sometimes. I read the text and come to a conclusion - Angela sees that moment differently. So far (we're at the half way point at the time of writing) we always work it out. We discuss it, the cast contribute, and the words on the page slowly come to life. Of course also at this midpoint the cast's biggest concern is getting on top of the lines; once that sticky point is over we can continue the enjoyable and rewarding process of bringing this new script to life for a new audience. I hope we do it justice.
My eldest son started university in 2007, and before he applied, we spent a great deal of time researching higher education. It was during this exercise that I came across an article in The Times about a survey conducted by Kingston University, which suggested an increasing number of students were turning to the sex industry in order to fund the rising cost of getting a degree. The playwright in me thought there was a script in there somewhere, and it was on my son's first day as a Warwick undergraduate that I finally sat down at my desk and started to write it.
I've been asked a lot recently - mostly by other writers who are doing as they were advised and writing about what they know - to be more specific about how I know so much about the world of this play. I'm very quick to point out that at the time of writing, although my knowledge of the education system was sound, I had absolutely no experience when it came to brothels and prostitution. Honest! I think - hope - I've managed to convince my enquirers that everything I learned was as a result of on-line research. When I think of the things I had to "Ask Jeeves"...
As for some of what this trusty cybervalet turned up... I read interviews with Cynthia Payne, details of the law relating to the oldest profession, and a brilliantly written article by Sebastian Horsley (who has over twenty-five years' experience sleeping with prostitutes - does he put that on his CV, I wondered? Furthermore, does he ever actually sleep?). I read comments from students who work in the sex industry, quotes from the English Collective of Prostitutes, and disturbing reports of racism towards black sex workers. And then there was student finances 101 (as if I needed reminding...), the most fascinating article by Greg Watson (University of Joensuu, Finland) concerning "love and lust in the lyrics of early female blues artists", and not forgetting the findings of a (particularly relevant) study by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa. I also spoke to students and - regarding another of the play's issues - the parents of teenage daughters, and these teenage daughters themselves. All of which kept me out of mischief for a considerable time!
Everything I learned was documented and filed in a big folder - which, if it ever falls into the wrong hands, will leave me with a certain amount of explaining to do... Hopefully, the incredibly talented team I've had the pleasure of working with on this Bench production will come to my aid and confirm it was all in the name of art.
The winner of Bench Theatre's 'state of the nation' play competition, held to mark its 40th anniversary, is a powerful and often entertaining work although not without flaws. In two hours of real-time action played without interval, writer Angela Pressland shrewdly dribbles out her revelations in such a way as to make it difficult for the reviewer to say too much about the plot without spoiling it for later audiences. But it covers a lot of ground, including teacher/student relationships, fantasy and reality, racism, fashion and today's craving for instant gratification.
The setting is a brothel where a middle-aged man, on his nervous first visit, encounters a confident not-quite-20 woman trying to pay her way through university. Director Jacquie Penrose and an outstanding cast negotiate some tricky waters with skill - without over-statement but with natural feeling for the big emotional sequences as well as comedy. Above all, Roger Wallsgrove and Charmaine Barker give the principal characters a fine mixture of anger and compassion - and it is arguably the sense of compassion that runs most potently through the play. Melanie Cole and Callum West complete the cast.
The News, 23rd September 2009
The 40th anniversary of Bench Theatre continues with their production of a new play representing the current decade. A Higher Education, under the banner 'State of the Nation' is the winner of their third playwriting competition. Angela Pressland is an exciting new playwright, who has already seen success with the broadcasting of a prize-winning story and performances of two of her short plays at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. She began writing in 2005 and intends to study for a degree in Theatre Studies. Working alongside the Director, Jacquie Penrose, this world premiere has introduced us to an exciting duo.
The play is a marathon - almost 2 uninterrupted hours of explosive intense emotions ranging from guilt and frustration to racism and humiliation. Patrick, a teacher and valued member of staff, is experiencing problems and deep fears in his private life and as an antidote decides to seek female comfort! Summer, a university student, in order to fund her higher education, is supplementing her meagre resources by working at the brothel! Explosive exchanges ensue and the consequential outpouring of impassioned feelings are let loose.
This small cast of 4 really brought the piece to life. Melanie Cole (Eleanor) excelled as the 'Madame', as she reassured the inhibited teacher on his introduction to the 'boudoir'. Roger Wallsgrove (Patrick Jarvis), a newcomer to Bench Theatre, was outstanding. His sheer volume of dialogue and range of emotions was exceptional as he laid bare his frisson of desire! Equally impressive was the stunning Charmaine Barker (Summer). The comfortable ease with which she taunted and consoled the older man was remarkable.
This was a compelling piece of drama encompassing the worrying trend of students joining the sex industry to fund their degrees! Bench Theatre consistently produce challenging contemporary works and this was no exception. The performance was well supported, and is highly recommended.
remotegoat, 23rd September 2009