Celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Necessary Stage brings one of Singapore’s theatrical classics back on stage – “Those Who Can’t, Teach”. The show follows the lives of a group of teachers and students in the fictional Marine Parade Secondary School (MPSS). Switching between the first person perspectives of both parties, “Those Who Can’t, Teach” strikes a chord in the audience as the dilemmas faced by the characters reflects the loopholes in Singapore’s education system.
The first half of the production makes for a light-hearted comedy infused with local humor and teenage romance. Settled in the staff office of MPSS, we watch the exchanges between teachers, their attitudes towards work and along the way, a scandal is revealed. We also get a glimpse of the students’ point of view and their musings. The high school romance proved to be a crowd teaser with secondary school drama students making up a large part of the audience on the production’s first night.
The second half of the play progresses to become emotionally intense. Broken hearts, lost friendships, angry insults, we watch the downward spiral of the teachers and students as they battle their inner conflicts. Perhaps one of the most thought provoking moments was a revelation by a student years later to Mrs Phua which questions the term our society deems “meritocratic”.
The production raises both societal and educational issues that are becoming increasingly controversial. A new Physical Education (PE) teacher fresh out of the National Institute of Education (NIE) shows the crisis one faces on his first job upon joining the workforce. Farhanah the Malay teacher sees being a teacher as a job, and that her job is to teach, not be a role model. The protagonist, Mrs Phua, finds herself struggling between balancing personal problems and work life, taking orders from a narcissistic PSEA scholar and her conservative views on education being challenged. The reform of Teck Liang, a delinquent teenager full of angst, was thanks to Mrs Phua’s undying efforts. Teck Liang’s story reminds us that not every Teck Liang out there is as lucky to have a Mrs Phua who believes in their potential when no one else did, and these are the ones who fall through the cracks of our education system.
“The older you are, the more you remember. The younger you are, the more you forget”.
An introspective piece of work that reminds us to be grateful to the teachers and mentors in our lives, you can catch “Those Who Can’t, Teach” at the Drama Centre Theatre (100 Victoria St, #05-01 National Library Building) from now until 19 March 2017.
Reviewed by Violet Koh