A few weeks ago I joined the Brighton Little Theatre. The word ‘little’ is particularly well chosen as the theatre currently seats a total of 64 people! However, there is nothing little about the theatre’s ambitions or its performance programme – it apparently puts on around ten productions a year, so there is always a play in rehearsal and as one show finishes, the next is ready to take to the stage.
Even more unusually – particularly for an amateur theatre club – the theatre owns its own building in the centre of Brighton and operates at an, albeit modest, profit. It also has ambitious plans for redevelopment which, when complete, will increase the theatre’s seating capacity to an unimaginable 75!
I’ve always been a bit of an amateur thespian. — what other, more uncharitable people might describe as being a bit of a show off — but my main thought in joining the club was just to get to know some more people and to support local theatre.
It worries me that whenever there are cuts in school budgets, it’s always subjects like music and drama that get dropped from the curriculum. As schools chase league table ratings, and become organised into consortia like industrial companies, the sacred cows of English, Maths and Science become untouchable but more creative subjects are left to wither on the vine.
Don’t get me wrong, the country needs its mathematicians and its scientists. There is no debate about that, and clearly every country needs its own citizens to master its own language. But I am concerned that as we use austerity to narrow the curriculum to what we see as being the needs of the economy we lose sight of the fact that the kids that we are currently educating are being educated to do jobs that haven’t yet been invented, and. more significantly, many of them may be being educated for no jobs at all.
As robotics gets into its, as yet. awkward stride, the need for workers looks set to diminish. Even professionals like doctors and lawyers will find more and more of their work taken over by robots and even delivery drivers could be a thing of the past with the next few decades. My guess is that we will have to challenge our own assumptions that having a job means working five days a week and more if you want to impress the boss. We could find that the working week will become three or even two days and if that happens filling leisure time will become the challenge of the age. So is this the time to be squeezing those subjects out of the school curriculum that could give people creative ways of spending their increased leisure time. Or is daytime television the only way forward for the upcoming generations?
I’ll let you into a little secret. Much to my own surprise, I passed GCE Maths, including Trigonometry, when I was sixteen years old. That was 50 years ago. In the intervening 50 years, I have never had to solve a quadratic equation or calculate the angle of a ladder against a wall, never had to draw a rhombus and certainly never had to work out the value of ‘x’. So why on earth were so many hundreds of boy-hours spent sitting in a fog of misery and misunderstanding as a succession of dusty teachers tried to teach me Algebra and Geometry? (Note for younger readers: when I was a school, all teachers were dusty, because writing with chalk on a blackboard and getting us to copy everything into our exercise books was the chief method of teaching.) And why was Music such a joke subject in my school and a subject that I had to drop after Year 8 because there wasn’t room for it in the curriculum?
But I digress. I was telling you that I had joined the Brighton Little Theatre. Imagine my surprise when I got notification that one of the next plays being planned was Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, a ‘comedy of manners’ written nearly 250 years ago.
Flash-back to 1973. I was doing VSO for the first time in The Sudan. Like most VSO volunteers at that time, I was teaching English, qualified only by the fact that I could speak the language quite well and, having a degree in German, I knew the difference between a noun and an adjective.
Even in those days, the Sudan was a politically fragile place and the Higher Teachers’ Training Institute, where I was supposed to be teaching, was on strike more often than it was working. This was bad news, because, as a VSO volunteer, your sole raison d’etre for being in a far-flung place, earning nothing, is the fact that you think you are making some kind of contribution to people’s development. With the Institute barricaded shut half the time, there was nothing to do. Not a happy situation.
Fortunately, amongst the English-speaking expatriates in Khartoum there was a drama club that occasionally put on plays, so I saw my chance! Having more spare time than I could handle, I offered to produce a play and guess what? The play I chose was She Stoops to Conquer for reasons that I honestly cannot now remember, but having cast the Head of the British Council and his deputy in two of the leading roles and drawing on talent from several other embassies we managed to put on a pretty decent show. It was certainly the best live theatre that anyone had seen in Khartoum that year. (Uncharitable persons might point out that it was in fact the only theatrical performance to be seen in Khartoum that year, but that would be unkind.)
Fast-forward 45 years and there I am in Brighton faced with an audition notice for the Brighton Little Theatre’s forthcoming production of She Stoops to Conquer. What could I do? The Fates were clearly conspiring. I auditioned for the part of Mr Hardcastle, a country squire living in straitened circumstances and, somewhat to my surprise, got it.
So now I have the small matter of pages and pages of lines to learn and in July, if I am spared, I shall be treading the boards of the Brighton Little Theatre in my powdered wig and best northern accent. Clearly a cultural event not to be missed!