Theatre Review: Teach, theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh

Matthew Roberts was acclaimed at the Fringe last year for his one-man play Canoe, about a gay couple whose two children died in a canoing accident. His show this year is much more personal - a love letter, polemic, eulogy for his profession: teaching.

Teach is a heartfelt tale from the frontlines of education.

Teach, theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh ****

Roberts starts off with his own memories of school, of Mrs Rayner who inspired a class of eight-year-olds in Runcorn with stories of her holiday in China, switching-on the connection between learning and imagination. Next thing, he’s teaching drama in East Ham, filmed by Sky Arts, using sections of Titus Andronicus to talk to kids about Islamic extremism.

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The job is stressful and soul-destroying, draining and rewarding. He takes a pay cut to retrain as an English teacher after the government axe falls on creative arts subjects. He sacrifices his home life to it, and once is imprisoned in a classroom by a pupil wielding a knife. Three times in the show, he asks the audience: should he stay in teaching, or leave?

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Teach is delivered at breakneck pace, careening through experiences and emotions. Roberts has shortened the show for Edinburgh, and seems to have done so in part by speeding up. At times it feels as though there are just too many storylines here to allow each element the dramatic space it needs.

But it’s edgy and heartfelt, angry and inspiring in equal measure, a passionate account from the frontlines about how teaching is being eroded by funding cuts and bullying and disillusionment and knife crime, and yet still has the power to transform lives. It’s no surprise that the audience voted overwhelmingly for him to stay in teaching. Of course he should. He’s exactly the kind of teacher we all wish we’d had.

Until 24 August