Theatre Review: Chalkface

A laugh-out-loud mash up between The Office and the life endured by our teachers as they boldly go where so many have gone before


Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia and Sydney Theatre Company in association with Adina Apartment Hotels

Reviewed: 09/08/2022

Angela Betzien has written a cracker of a comedy piece with Chalkface. It truly is what it says on the label – a laugh-out-loud mash up between The Office and the life endured by our teachers as they boldly go where so many have gone before. Betzien has a real handle on satire and her acerbic and often hilarious dialogue give the actors the opportunity to play and display their talents. On Ailsa Paterson’s cleverly designed set the staff room is brought to life from the minute you walk into the theatre, and when the lights go up, they put into stark relief the aging cream paint, the left over 50’s orange sofa, a couple of very overused beanbags and the kitchen from hell. Those of us who have braved the life of a classroom teacher run the gamut between running screaming from the theatre, or recognising this is the perfect setting for some very funny comic situations.

From the moment Susan Prior’s mousey, but panicked, Miss Hart enters the room we know we are in for a roller-coaster ride. Jessica Arthur (director) has brought to life a wonderful romp through a few handpicked months of a year of corporate driven public school. Yes, folks the public school system is being run like a well-oiled office. Her set up for the brilliant talent that is Catherine McClements to step into the driver’s seat, and show us from the very start her comic genius, could have easily been stepped on by a group of less skilled actors; this is a brilliant and tight knit, ensemble.

McClements drives the satire, the comedy and the tragedy of the piece with the gentle air of a death adder. Nothing and no-one is off her laser sharp radar and equally damaging tongue. She is the senior member of staff who knows all the buttons to push and exactly what the outcome will be. Nathan O’Keefe’s Douglas Housten, the headmaster who never enters the classroom, but runs his school like a very efficient company, is a joy from his first lycra clad entrance to his final blood covered exit. A solid and reliable foil for the mayhem that develops. Michelle Ny’s Cheryl Finch has just the right amount of suspicion tailing her every move and Ezra Junata’s Steve Budge is driven by fear, paranoia and a need to express himself through dance – enough said, hilarious. The final piece of the puzzle, Stephanie Somerville is a wonderful foil for McClements and the two of them work well together to drive the pace, plots and energy that made this very enjoyable night in the theatre come to life as their relationships, and discoveries, build this farce to an amusing and predictable climax. But, you know what, that made this clever piece of writing all the more fun to be drawn into. Who doesn’t love to groan at a dad joke? Well, this is hovering on the edge but packed with humour, and a lot of very witty and well-crafted dialogue.

The costumes are a treat, but Book Week will live in the hearts and minds of every parent, or teacher, that has ever had to endure it. The costumes were perfect. Mark Shelton’s lighting was excellent and Jessica Dunn’s music was used to great advantage. Susan Prior has the bruises to prove it.

We have suffered from a lack of live theatre over the last few years and this 90-minute romp is just the tonic we need to lift our spirits and put some joy back in our lives. The pandemic isn’t over yet but it is sure worth putting a mask on and getting yourself down to the Dunstan Playhouse to see this very funny play. Angela Betzien is a rising talent in the writing world and this shows her ability to write across all genres: film, TV and theatre. She’s a name to watch and this is a play to see.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Rating out of 5: 5 explosive stars

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse.

Season: 9th – 20th August 2022       

Duration: 1 hour 45 mins, approx (no interval)

Tickets: EVENINGAdult $80.00Concession $70.00Under 30, Full Time Student $39.00Matinee:

MATINEEAdult $70.00Concession $60.00Under 30, Full Time Student $39.00

Bookings: https://statetheatrecompany.com.au/shows/chalkface/

Photo Credit: Matt Byrne

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