'Thank you for those kind words, headmaster. Naturally I believe nothing that you've just said'

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Teacher turned comic presents his own take on education at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

when gareth calway retired this summer he gave a polite speech thanking the head for his kind words. Next month at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe he will give an entirely different retirement speech.

Mr Calway, a former English teacher at Smithdon high in Hunstanton, Norfolk, is putting on a one-man show entitled Tales Out of School: A Retired Teacher Lets It All Out. The comic monologue begins with the statement: "Thank you for those kind words, headmaster. Though naturally I believe nothing that you've just said."

It then runs the gamut of education-related emotions, taking in the tragic, comic and surreal elements of a state school career.

"Education is such a rich mine of comedy," Mr Calway said. "I've worked with some teachers who were hysterical, in every sense. And there are government initiatives like one stampeding white elephant after another."

True-life stories tapped for comic potential include the educational welfare officer whose own child had the worst truancy record in school and the teenage boy called Micheal. "That boy had a spelling mistake as a name," Mr Calway said. "What a start to life."

He said that throughout his 27-year career in teaching he laughed and cried in equal measure.

"I don't want to be didactic," he said. "Life is tough enough without being preached at. But I feel very strongly about education. And comedy can be better than tragedy at showing that. It's more human, more sympathetic."

Mr Calway is not the only Edinburgh performer to have been inspired by experiences in the classroom. The festival this year will host several reinterpretations of Disney's High School Musical.

A performance of School House Rock, based on the television series of the same name, explores the travails of a qualified teacher as he attempts to win his students over with educational songs, such as "Conjunction Junction".

Patricia Hartshorne, a supply teacher from Derbyshire, will appear in Alternative Medicine, a one-woman show about a doctor's receptionist called Enid. Enid is notable for her glasses, which give her an air of sternness.

"When I was a young teacher, I wore spectacles as a way to make myself look stern," said Ms Hartshorne. "Even though I didn't need them, I had a pair of very low-prescription glasses I used at school. I'd put them on the end of my nose to give myself authority. Enid uses them in the same way."

Other Edinburgh performers are playing down their authoritativeness, hoping to teach by stealth. The Rap Canterbury Tales imagines Chaucer's characters as contemporary street lyricists. And Visualise the Beauty of Science uses giant smoke rings, home-made whirlwinds and leaping flames to create a visual tribute to an often underrated school subject. Debbie Syrop, creator of the show, hopes teachers and pupils will be inspired by her special effects.

She creates a small-scale tornado using a cup of lighted meths, spinning on a turntable and has a resource pack to enable teachers to produce similar effects in class.

"I thought schools would find it too far removed from the national curriculum," she said. "But the natural curriculum is moving towards being more enquiry-based.

"Science is often presented as a series of answers. But what fuels scientists are questions, riddles and puzzles. Our show is like magic. People want to know how it works, and are motivated to find out more. That's what I want to achieve."

* www.edfringe.com

A trip on the playbus, Magazine, page 18

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