ANDREW Lancel is a tour de force as Dave Titswell, an English teacher, in Swan Song – a play written by Jonathan Harvey and running at the Turbine Theatre besides Battersea Power Station until December 4.
Delivering a monologue that is punctuated with wit, and without time to draw breath, Lancel is nothing short of magnificent. Dead pan, but dead good.
It’s 1997 at a struggling community college in Liverpool named after a Beatles star (of course). Dave has been there a mighty long time and he thinks he has most of the answers to what constitutes a good teacher.
Teaching frames his life – he’s been doing it for a quarter of a century – and only a cat keeps him company at home. Rather sad is our Dave.
For 65 minutes, he bitches about some of his colleagues, misinterprets situations, bigs himself up (nobody else will) and rails against anyone with Tory leanings. Dave has had enough of John Major’s government and education cuts. He’s a diehard socialist and potential joy lies around the corner in the form of Tony Blair’s New Labour.
For all his opinions – and boy he has them coming out of his ears – Dave is terribly conservative. Although gay, boyfriends are off the agenda. He’s only had two and they didn’t last because they couldn’t handle him – so he claims. He drives a top of the range Fiat Panda (an oxymoron surely) His only vices appear to be smoking – and a rather poisonous tongue.
And while he purports to be an educational whizz kid, he’s not. But that’s the fun of it all. Dave is somewhat deluded. He thinks he’s rather good when he’s rather average. He’s stuck in a rut, but doesn’t seem to know it. Younger teachers get promoted without him really being aware that he’s being overlooked. All rather sad.
When he goes on an Easter school trip to the Lake District – but only after misinterpreting the offer from a male colleague – things get a little out of hand. Drinks are consumed, certain teachers inter-mingle (Dave sees warts and all, ) and details about the school’s future are revealed. Dave then starts playing with fire.
How will he fare? Will he continue to do what he thinks he does rather well? Or is it his swan song?
It’s a monumental performance from Lancel – helped by a super script from Harvey which captures the bitching and backbiting that are the hallmark of most teachers’ staff rooms.
The play, directed by Noreen Kershaw and produced by Bill Elms, drips with humour. The wit flies right from the start when Dave warns teachers to ensure their surnames do not draw ridicule from pupils (Moira Bowes, not Moira Blows) through to digs at teaching colleague Caroline who thinks Emily Pankhurst is a pupil: ‘What year is she in?’
There are also glorious lines about teacher Loll picking up crabs which the pupils misinterpret. All delivered in delightful monotone fashion by Lancel. While the play’s objective is unclear, it doesn’t really matter. Just come and watch Lancel. An hour and a bit of acting par excellence.
Title photo by Alan Humphries