KRHP: Those Who Can't, Teach #4

A salute to teachers, this year’s Kent Ridge Hall Production was not so much an interrogation of the whys and wherefores of our structured education system but rather a sensitive depiction of how teachers and students alike are affected by it—sometimes to heart-breaking results.

The story revolves around protagonist Mrs Phua Sulin (Lam Weiyi), a hardworking teacher at the fictional Marine Parade Secondary School (MPSS), whose enthusiasm and passion for her job and students never falter despite being placed under less than ideal circumstances. While struggling between disinterested students, self-worshipping superiors and a mother with dementia, her ideals to raise the standard of education in MPSS are stacked up against the harshness of reality.

On the flipside are the students of 2NE1, “delinquents” Teck Liang (Dadi Santosh Amoghraj) and Jali (Ryan Cheok Ann) are seen trying to navigate through the tricky minefield of teen-hood as they battle—and sometimes even fall trap into, the stereotypes against their stream and family background.

It is in local playwright Haresh Sharma’s unconventional script that expresses the frustration at the system through biting humour that is though sometimes harsh, but also deadly accurate and resonates deeply with the audience. Rather than keeping to the usual narrative of a teacher reaping the rewards of inspiring and guiding a troublesome student to success, we are left with a school unable to keep the high promises of our meritocratic public education and a lonely retired teacher who spent more time focusing on other people’s children rather than her own.

This grey picture of immovable reality was particularly evident in one unsettling scene, where the now grown up Jali returns to visit Mrs Phua on her retirement day to thank her for always believing in him. But despite that faith and encouragement to retake his ‘O’ Level examinations, he still failed and still ended up as a deliveryman without much other job prospects. It is here that Mrs Phua experiences unspeakable loss as she realises that she has no more rosy promises for a future that has already arrived. Apart from exposing the flawed design of our streaming system and the domino effect that carries on well into our adult lives, it also tears through the darker implications of Mrs Phua’s relentless passion for teaching, that reflects the cruel optimism of the promises of our education system. It is these kinds of revelations, simple yet poignant, that rings clear with the audience—no matter our academic background.

“Don’t think that just because you’re a teacher, you’re going to change student’s lives. You’re not going to change anything.”

Yet despite the potentially heavy-handed topics, Hall Production manages to deftly lift the veil on both sides of the teacher-student divide while also keeping a generally buoyant atmosphere through hilarious characters such as the nosy canteen stall owner, Sabtu, (Sellek Teng), and banter between colleagues and classmates alike.

The actors delivered stand out performances, filling out the emotional complexities of their characters competently, and the creative team did a fantastic job of recreating a set that was simple yet effective, with nostalgic costumes that were vital to the school life elements of the play.

A tasteful commentary on school life, “Those Who Can’t, Teach” does not force us to make any judgement about the system, but instead, like a good teacher, shares its own experiences and lets us draw our own conclusions.

Directors: Justin May and Tricia Ding

Cast: Ryan Cheok Ann as Jali, Benson Choo as Raymond, Dadi Santosh Amoghraj as Teck Liang, Karen Lee as Clare, Justin May as Zach, Tai Wei Yang as Lawrence, Lam Weiyi as Sulin, Usy as Kak, Katelyn Joy Chiu as Lim, Sellek Teng as Sabtu, Raelene Chin as Hana.

Business Department: Raelene Chin, Grace Liu, Constance Seah, Valencia Yeo, Megan Khoo, Firduas Firlany, Jarel Toh, Kristi Hwang

Sets Design Team: Fionna Chew, Rachael, Claudine Fang, Megan Gwee

Props Team: Karen Lee, Charmain Neo, Ryan Cheok Ann

Wardrobe Department: Chloe Choy, Karyn Ooi, Emily Khoo

Sound Director: Tharshwin Thanaskodi

Stage Management: Nat Tan Wei, Nicole Wong, Natalie Mun, Chen Zheying, Fionna Chew, Kuan Jintat, Jeremy Ong, Leng Chay Chye, Lim Kaywee, Rachel Lim, Sam Tan Yi, Zhuang Zijian

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Kent Ridge Hall Reporters 2019