Back to school – world premiere of Australian school comedy starring Catherine McClements

Satirical school comedy Chalkface, the latest from the brilliant mind of playwright Angela Betzien, will have its world premiere at Dunstan Playhouse in August.

The co-production from State Theatre Company South Australia and Sydney Theatre Company will star acclaimed actor Catherine McClements (Tangle, Wentworth), Stephanie Somerville, Michelle Ny, Susan Prior (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and beloved Adelaide actors Nathan O’Keefe and Ezra Juanta, under the direction of Jessica Arthur.

Taking place over the course of a school year and set entirely within the staffroom of a fictional Australian public school, Chalkface looks at the issues facing the Australian education system in a way that is shockingly relevant and hysterically funny.

McClements plays Pat Novitsky, the school’s brilliant but bitter and longest-serving teacher, who thinks newcomer Anna’s Masters of Neuroplasticity and new-age thinking has nothing on her 35 years of experience. Anna thinks Pat is stuck in the past. When the principal assigns school terror Hurricane Little to Anna’s class, the two teachers come head-to-head in a brutal smackdown of old versus new guard, exposing everyone’s darkest secrets.

At once a love letter to teachers and a scathing look at the school system, Chalkface is a rollicking comedy that’s not afraid to start some mischief, taking an irreverent jab at privatisation, bureaucracy, and workplace culture.
Director Jessica Arthur, who has assembled an esteemed creative team including composer and sound designer Jessica Dunn (Six the Musical), set and costume designer Ailsa Paterson (Gaslight), lighting designer Mark Shelton (Eureka Day) and assistant director Clement Rukundo (Hibernation), says Chalkface is a tribute to one of our noblest and underappreciated professions.

“This is a play about school and teaching, and everyone has either been to school or had some sort of inspirational figure in their life – whether that be a teacher or a role model. With this play, you can’t help but reflect on the teachers that shaped you, or interesting experiences you shared with classmates,” the resident director at Sydney Theatre Company says. “I also think it’s very relevant coming out of lockdown because, having now been through the experience of homeschooling, collectively people are appreciating just how essential teachers and education are. I think it’s very easy for us to become complacent with that, but Chalkface is almost like a love letter to teachers and the people that shape us.”
Playwright Angela Betzien (ABC’s Total Control, The Hanging) says it’s a “huge privilege” to bring the world premiere of Chalkface to Dunstan Playhouse.

“I am thrilled to be returning to South Australia with this co-production of my new comedy about teachers. I hope Chalkface will be a fun, raucous and thought-provoking experience in the theatre after two very bleak pandemic years,” she says. “We are all part of a school community in some way, whether past or present. I hope audiences will be able to recognise their own communities in this play.”

Chalkface is a co-production from Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company South Australia that also plays at Sydney Opera House Sep 15 to Oct 29, and Parramatta and Canberra in Nov. Chalkface is at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide, Aug 5-20, tickets at https://statetheatrecompany.com.au/shows/chalkface

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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