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All new, but it's still the same

ONE OF the most popular theatre companies to tour primary schools has had a make-over.

Hopscotch, which has been a favourite with children for decades, has a new director (Ross Stenhouse), a new business plan to attract partnerships, and a new philosophy to tie its work more closely to the primary curriculum.

But in some ways, the more it has changed, the more it is the same. The tour of What We Did When The Oil Ran Out cheerfully crash-bangs two schools a day the length and breadth of Scotland until the end of the summer term.

The style is a blend of song and dance burlesque, buffed up with erudition, and they can play to the whole school at once. Stenhouse, as actor, writer and director, has been with Hopscotch from the beginning, and the current environmental entertainment is author Raymond Burke's 16th play for the company he joined as an actor in 1991. This style has made it uniquely independent of Scottish Arts Council grants or educational manifestos.

So what has changed? First, there is the acceptance of respectable sponsorship from the Co-operative Group, the show's allegiance to its Climate Pledge, and the seven ways we can shrink our carbon footprint.

Second, there is willingness to give up their freebooting ways, fall in line with almost every theatre group that works in schools, and look for inspiration from the curriculum.

Janice MacFarlane, principal teacher at Mosshead Primary in East Dunbartonshire, says the school has several visiting companies, but that Hopscotch is one of the best. "We look through the literature the groups send, and then pick the ones that fit in with our work," she explains. "The curriculum is so jam-packed nowadays we cannot afford anything else.

"We are an eco-school, with every class taking a different aspect - healthy eating, composting, walking to school, handcraft activities and so on - so this performance was right for us. And because the company send their pamphlet ahead, we can prepare our classes for what they see."

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