Why are there so couple superior plays about university lifestyle? A handful have accomplished legendary position. Alan Bennett’s The Record Boys (2004) was at the time voted the nation’s favourite play. Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Model (1948) is a going review of despised trainer. Nigel Williams’s Class Enemy (1978) captures the anarchy of an interior-town university. But, superior as Williams’s play is, it is a lot more than matched by Barry Reckord’s Skyvers (1963). The piece had a intense champion in the late Pam Brighton, who directed a exceptional revival in 1971, but it remains curiously small-regarded.
Reckord’s tale is substantial. Born in Jamaica, he researched at Cambridge, grew to become a trainer and then a entire-time writer who, as Yvonne Brewster has explained, “laid a basis for afterwards rising Caribbean playwrights these types of as Mustapha Matura, Michael Abbensetts and Alfred Fagon”. All found a household at the Royal Court docket in the 60s and 70s, but it was Reckord who paved the way.
In Skyvers, he wrote an unflinchingly truthful review of lifestyle in a London secondary university in which a gang of unruly 15-year-olds are on the verge of quitting devoid of any qualifications. A pair have get the job done lined up: just one in the docks, a further with a printing agency. But Brook, the university bully, appears destined for a lifestyle of petty crime and the just one boy with aspirations, Cragge, has to fight against both of those his friends and a punitive system.
The play is clearly of its time: corporal punishment is nonetheless permitted, it is a solitary-sexual intercourse university and the cultural idols of the working day are Cliff Richard, Johnny Haynes and Helen Shapiro. But what Reckord pins down brilliantly is the two-tier system that operates in condition educational institutions and the generation of an underclass consigned to useless-finish work opportunities. The mutual contempt amongst lots of of the lecturers and the taught is nonetheless stunning. “Cockney patter, no depth to it,” claims just one grasp of Cragge’s reward for text. And when a provide trainer asks the pupils, “Don’t any of you want to be educated?” he is achieved with the reply: “Look at you, you are educated and in which did it get you? Training!”
Plays can be lots of matters. This just one is a riveting social doc that pinpoints the flaws in the educational system and the broader tradition. The boys themselves, with the exception of the ambitious Cragge, are casually racist and brutally sexist. But the lecturers, once again with a sole exception, resign themselves to the concept that the most they can supply these mutinous little ones is “gym and soccer and free milk”. Do we reside in a improved globe today? I’d like to imagine so. But I suspect that our educational institutions are nonetheless, as Reckord vividly implies, a key supply of social division.