The dark side of the whiteboard - Crisp crew's theatre farce

10th December 2010 at 00:00

It's the Year 7 theatre trip on Monday. This year I organised the whole thing from start to finish. It's less an act of yuletide kindness, more an attempt to access the upper pay scale. With threshold looming, this seemed an easier way of ticking the extra-curricular box than spending my weekend on a windswept moor in Northumberland, clutching an OS map and a waterproof mascara.

Organising the trip has been a logistical nightmare. The first problem was picking the right show. After much debate, we decided to "join Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad for a Christmas to remember", although the boys would have preferred to join the Black Ops killing crew on Call of Duty. The next hurdle was money. Persuading 250 cash-strapped parents to cough up #163;11.50 for a festive theatre trip is like George Osborne asking the rich to give up child benefits. They did it, but not without a fight.

I'm hoping it's going to be worth it. Last year our kids were singularly unimpressed by the whole theatre experience. They spent the first half of Peter Pan opening their Wotsits and the second half going to the loo. During the interval, one girl asked me when the stars would arrive. I let her down gently, explaining that this was a "Christmas show", not a "pantomime". The crucial difference being that a Christmas show employs actors you have never heard of, whereas a pantomime employs actors you have never heard of who were once on the telly. Also, a panto is an interactive medium, whereas a Christmas show usually is not. So technically, when Peter Pan announced that poor Tink was dead, the actor expected a stunned silence, not a rousing chorus of, "Oh no, she isn't!"

There is nothing like a trip to the theatre to highlight the social divide. Our kids have no concept of how to behave in the auditorium. For a start, they bring real food. "Mam, we're going to the theatre today." "Oh, you better take a packed lunch. Here's two ham stotties and a can of Tizer." As soon as the house lights go down, the rustling begins. Ten minutes in, and out pops the Tupperware and the prawn cocktail crisps. You've got to feel sorry for the actors: it can't be easy delivering your lines when a kid in row B keeps offering you a Cheestring. The private school kids are different. They sit politely, applaud at the end, and while our lot are rushing for the exits they conjugate Bravo, Brava and Bravissimo, while dodging some half-eaten rolls.

It shouldn't be any great surprise that young people feel alienated from the theatre. It has hardly tried to woo them. Cinema gave them Avatar; theatre gives them the Krankies. There is no popcorn, no CGI and when Wendy flies you can see all of her wires. Where is the thrill in that?

It hasn't always been this way. Ten years ago, I worked for the enfant terrible of regional theatre. He did everything in his power to win over teenage audiences: sex, violence, nudity, the lot. But occasionally we would fail to make the connection. Then he would call everyone in for a meeting and demand that we did something about it. Finally, he would dismiss us with three excoriating words: "Care, you cunts!"

Looking at the dreary stuff currently on offer, I only wish someone still did.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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