It was - let's not mess around here - bloody awful, a series of poorly-staged, semi-audible scenes, performed by self-conscious teenagers in regulation black t-shirts and jeans to an audience of unengaged mums and chums. Nominally based on a nineteenth century novel - which I'm willing to bet no one involved had actually read - it had no relation to the students' own lives, and their only possible approach was parody or camp anachronism. For a school production, it would have been shoddy - for something produced by students supposedly studying drama, it was shameful.
There were two moments of worthwhile theatricality - a bit of body-popping, clearly there to showcase a cast member's skill, and, at the end, a tango, danced by the whole cast. Out of period, dramatically irrelevant, and unsuited to the age group, it nonetheless stood at as the only time in the show where you got a sense of performers trying to master something outside their own immediate experience.
At the curtain call, the group's tutor came on to student cheers and congratulated the group on the quality of their work. They departed, with exaggerated luvvie-ish bows.
In the pub afterwards, my companion and I tried out to work out what the students, and our friend in particular, were getting from the experience. Neither expressing their own situation, not (tango apart) dealing with anything beyond it, they seemed to be working for nothing more than a few laughs, and an entirely unrealistic idea of what it's like to be a performer.
Until comparatively recently, the philosophy of schooling was fairly simple; the rich were taught to expand their minds, the poor to learn a trade - it's sometimes defined as the difference between education and training. The Butler Education Act changed all that - thank god - but now we seem to be caught in a mix of Blairite and Thatcherite ideas - the belief that everyone should get a further education, even those unsuited to it, but also that it should be defined entirely in terms of the jobs it leads to. The whole thing is summed up in the name of the department where I saw the show - 'Creative Industries'.
No one can wish for a return for the days when people like my friend would have gone straight into an apprenticeship, or his father's trade, and no one believes more than me in the value of schooling as a good in itself - I've occasionally told first-year students that, approached properly, a university education should leave them less employable, not more (confuses the hell out of them). But I have to worry about those B. Tech. students - if education neither expands the mind nor focuses it, what is it good for?