In the bottom stream - Robert Ferguson

SKYVERS, reviewed by Robert Ferguson

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 1, 2018

Readers of the Comprehensive Schools issue of ANARCHY should find Barry Reckord's play Skyvers which had a brief season this summer at the Royal Court Theatre, doubly interesting: it not only absorbs but disturbs. It is the story of five boys in their last few days in the bottom stream of a large comprehensive school in London. The central character, Cragge, brilliantly played by David Hemmings, is the misfit, the boy who thinks, in a group condemned by their education and society to be unthinking. The class forms a natural gang led by another boy, Brook, who instills in them all his disgust for a system which has destined him to a life of comparative meanness in an affluent society.

Cragge, in many respects is different from the others; like them he is bored and wants a girl, but his hatred for authority makes him reject even the leadership of Brook. He would like to succeed, to be a football star, yet even the opportunity to play for the school is denied him because he is a rebel, so the feeling of failure already engendered in him by his lack of success at school is further aggravated.

It is a new teacher, Mr. Freeman, who understands his impotent rage and tries to help by encouraging him to write a report of the soccer match for the school newspaper. But these good intentions are shattered when the report of a sixth former is printed in preference.

The climax of the play comes when Cragge is given a public caning for a misdemeanour of which he was not guilty, and the audience is left with the truth slowly dawning on them that to be given a chance to succeed in school or in life you have to knuckle under to authority. It is unfortunate from an anarchist point of view that we are left unaware of Cragg's final decision, and I feel that many people must leave the theatre hoping that Cragge gets to hell out of there and keeps kicking.

Skyvers was well-produced (by Anne Jellicoe) and well-acted, except for some over-playing by Dallas Cavell as the headmaster and the over-consciousness of the cast on some occasions of the implications of their words.

Mr. Reckord, by his choice of a comprehensive school as a setting, has selected what should be a microcosm of a libertarian and classless society, but the injustices of authority are shown to penetrate even there. From the headmaster, a scholastic bigot, to the cynical Webster and the humane but gutless Freeman, the staff are involved in a machine which, whatever they think about it personally, they are unable to combat.
It is interesting to note that the reactions of some 150 teachers, invited by the NUT to see the play, was almost unanimously one of outraged innocence. Mr. Reckord explained that he had not set out to write a documentary but rather to show how a group of people would react to a given situation.
The opinion voiced at the meeting that "Mr. Reckord has done a positive dis-service to education in this country" can only be consistent with the conclusion that many teachers live in a state of idealism which in no way reflects the actual state of our schools. This play may well be a dramatic exaggeration, but from my own experience of school, it is pretty near the mark. I would like to see it produced in a comprehensive school, by the bottom stream of the fourth form. Is there one English master in London imaginative enough to sponsor it? I would gladly pay the performing fee!