A second helping of clipboard comedies

19th August 2005 at 01:00
Adi Bloom goes to Edinburgh and finds a new cluster of performances getting big laughs from the wacky world of school inspection.

Ofsted inspections are not an obviously entertaining subject.

But faced with a choice of more than 3,000 theatre, musical and comedy showpieces - from sword-wielding Koreans to singing Shakespeareans - many visitors to the Edinburgh Festival want to laugh at Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

This was the discovery made last year by the sell-out show Ofsted! the Musical, and confirmed this year by the success of An Ofsted Inspector Calls, a comic drama performed by pupils from Feltonfleet preparatory school in Surrey.

Written by drama teacher Alasdair Richardson, the play has been so popular that the cast has had to add an extra weekend performance.

Mr Richardson said: "I thought we'd be playing to audiences of about 20, begging people to come to the show. But people want to come and take the mickey out of schools and inspectors."

The play is light-hearted, with genuinely funny moments. In obvious tribute to its musical predecessor, this piece tells the story of a chaotic school visited at short notice by excessively pedantic inspectors (motto:

"infiltrate, investigate, evaluate, annihilate").

But Year 8 pupil Oli Stewart insists that the play's hapless teachers are not based on the staff at Feltonfleet. "When you start rehearsing, you just think of your worst teacher," he said. "But now we've left school, and we've developed the characters. You try not to think about your real teachers too much."

An Ofsted Inspector is not the only play striving to emulate the success of Ofsted! the Musical. Education, Education, Education, written by pupils from Strode sixth-form college, in Surrey, is being performed in the venue where Ofsted! appeared last year.

But while Ofsted! played to packed crowds, the Strode cast of eight performed to an audience of nine on the night The TES was there. While competently acted and slickly produced, the play is what is generally referred to as "very Fringe". Opening scenes with characters speaking in pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue are followed by a story of a new pupil who is attacked by bullies and hanged by her shirt. Her class teacher, afraid to stop the bullies because of rules prohibiting teachers from touching pupils, hides the body in a classroom cupboard. Altogether, Education, Education, Education is surreal surreal surreal. The repercussions of bullying in school is also the subject of Confessions of a Swot, a stand-up routine performed by comedian Michael Mee.

In a low-key, mildly amusing monologue, Mr Mee recounts his time as a short, oddly accented, effortlessly bright pupil. At times the show feels more like an extended therapy session than stand-up comedy. But there is a genuinely poignant moment at the end of the routine when he describes a recent encounter with his former bully. Discovering that the bully writes poetry, Mr Mee hopes that the writing will provide some clue to the bully's motives.

"I was looking for something like, 'Daddy, why weren't you there?'" he says. "But nothing. There are no neat answers."

Box office: 0131 226 000 or www.edfringe.com

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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