Play shows state we're in

28th August 1998 at 01:00
TRUTH has proved almost stranger than fiction for a group of former public-school pupils who staged their vision of a brave new world of super-efficient teachers and ruthless administrators at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

State - which tells the tale of an educational hit squad descending on an ailing school and imposing zero tolerance of failure by humiliating staff and manipulating pupils - was conceived as a fantasy two years ago.

But that's not quite the way audiences have been viewing it.

Real teachers have apparently been approaching the cast at the end of performances, noting the startling similarity between what they have just seen and their working lives. Given the unrelenting nature of the work, this is not good news for the profession.

"In our play, one of the main characters is forced to resign because he is humiliated by the efficient teachers against whom he doesn't come up to scratch," explains co-author Eddie de Oliveira, 19, who is studying English literature at University College London.

Teachers have been keen to give the company - consisting of pupils and ex-pupils of Eddie's old school, independent Hampton in Middlesex, and neighbouring Lady Eleanor Holles school - their opinion on State's validity during its Edinburgh run.

"'Dehumanisation is what happens,' said one teacher. Another said that teachers are now not being made to think for themselves," said Mr de Oliveira.

"We made up almost all the terms, but they are apparently similar to the language used by new administrators in schools - time efficiency and administrative co-ordination technique.

"We did have a feeling this was the sort of thing that might happen - although the extent to which it is happening is quite unbelievable."

As well as respectable - if depressed - audiences, the play won a four-star rating from The Scotsman and a mention in a fringe youth culture debate, to add to a commendation from the National Student Drama Festival.

The outcome of State is tragic. The school gets taken over and the teachers are sacked. The pupils are swallowed up by the system. The one boy who questions the new regime is made to feel an idiot, and left isolated and alone. Goodbye, Mr Chips.

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