After the Young Vic's Sus last year, another of Barrie Keeffe's 1970s polemics is revived, this time at Riverside Studios. Jagged Fence Productions are calling it a 30th anniversary production, which given that according to the programme notes GOTCHA debuted at least 35 years ago, presumably falls into the "better late than never" category. At the time it was the TV adaptation that was best-known, as Mary Whitehouse (successfully) tried to ban a rerun of it. In his introduction to the play Keeffe says the freedom of speech controversy overtook what he was actually writing about and he hoped the original message would be clearer now. In which case he probably shouldn't have dedicated most of the aforementioned introduction to the controversy but there you go. Anyway, Mary Whitehouse once tried to ban her own feet 'cause she thought they looked at her a bit funny¹ so offending her wasn't exactly hard to do.
Anyway what the play is actually about is education, and particularly Comprehensive schools which at the time were fairly new and the subject of much discussion. A bullying PE teacher (Jefferson Hall) is having an affair with a young teacher (Emily Dobbs.) On the day he's about to leave school with no qualifications, a deliberately nameless Kid (Jake Roche) catches them in the store room and something snaps. He holds them hostage by means of a lit cigarette hovering over a motorbike's petrol tank, taking out his years of disillusionment on them (and later on David Morley Hale's Headmaster as well.) The hour-long play is hardly subtle but Poppy Burton-Morgan's production packs a punch with some very good performances. She and her cast are hampered by the fact that all the action's set in a tiny room so they don't have much scope to make the production visually exciting but they bring some well-judged changes of pace to make up for it. While the specifics may have changed there does still feel like there's a relevance to the idea of kids being told they can be anything and then finding that it's not true if the system decides they're not a priority. The play may be heavy-handed but it remains thought-provoking and the production is tense and engaging.
GOTCHA by Barrie Keeffe is booking until the 19th of March at Riverside Studios.
¹this may be less than 100% factually accurate