Perfect venue for venting

8th August 2008 at 01:00

As a teacher, one should not take pupils' inattention personally: often, they are just overtired and anxious to go home. Similarly, as an Edinburgh festival performer, it is best not to take audience inattention personally: often, they too are overtired and anxious to go home.

This is the conclusion Cecilia Delatori reached shortly before taking her one-woman play, inspired by her 20 years as a nursery teacher in east London, to the Edinburgh fringe. Beyonce - Stop Punching Robbie! is narrated by Janice, a middle-aged teacher, who is bullied by a colleague, loses a child on a school trip, and falls for a conference delegate resembling Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

"It's an amalgamation of everything I've seen over the past 20 years," she said. "I've tapped into an enormous resource. Children are more vocal when they're bored. They turn to the back, or lie down. Adults onlt do that after a couple of drinks." But, she adds, the classroom and the festival are surprisingly similar: "I can just see story after story stretching ahead."

Ms Delatori is not the only performer to find comedy in the classroom. Gregory O'Connor, a Dublin-based retired economics and business teacher, is staging a comic monologue in which a teacher vents his pent-up anger. "I'm getting some stuff off my chest," he said. "Cleansing my psyche, so to speak."

Rants of Ringo describes staff who sink into a depression when the school bell goes, and mocks his own hypochondria. "The classroom is like a cross between a tuberculosis ward and a sewage plant," he said.

"You're surrounded by coughs and sneezes. Now, if I see someone with a broken leg, I'm limping 10 minutes later. That's what teaching has done for me."

Others at the festival are more optimistic. Fin Kennedy, playwright-in-residence at Mulberry School in east London, is staging Stolen Secrets, a collection of urban fairy tales, with his pupils.

As Mulberry pupils act out pillow fights between murderous teens, venues across Edinburgh are offering similarly macabre visions of the classroom.

Kiddy-Fiddler on the Roof, a musical, tells of a boy who develops a grudge against his teacher and incites parents to vigilante violence. And Boys of the Empire looks at fagging and Islamic fundamentalism in an inter-war boarding school.

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