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Drama on stage and street

Visiting theatre companies can provide valuable insights for learners. Kevin Berry previews new offerings

Watching a French or German-speaking theatre company at work can be a great boost to motivation, especially when there is a chance to join in workshops with actors who are native speakers.

The European Theatre Company has been bringing French native speakers over for five years. Plays are toured to a network of schools with large halls or theatres and neighbourhood schools are invited to buy tickets. It makes economic sense and everyone gets a good view.

European Theatre's current tour, running until May 27, is an adaptation of two of Alphonse Daudet's classic Lettres de Mon Moulin stories, and is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Intended for the 11 to 14 age group, the dialogue is 50 per cent French and there are many opportunities for audience involvement. Traditional costume, music, dance and food and excellent scenery give a flavour of the Provence setting of the stories. In the autumn, European Theatre will be touring a play for German voices, supported by the Goethe Institut, and intended for students new to the language.

The Northumberland-based Theatre sans Fronti res is touring Les Trois Mousquetaires until mid-April, with the musketeers played by women. Audiences appreciate the company's bold physical style. Pupils are so absorbed that they often forget they are listening to French dialogue.Les Trois Mousquetairs is intended for GCSE andA-level students, but in the autumn Theatre sans Fronti res will cater for beginners with a tour of Le Chat Noir, a traditional Breton folk tale.

In early June Le Comedie Francaise, the French equivalent of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is at London's Barbican Centre for eight performances of Moli re's Les Fourberies de Scapin. The visit is part of a French cultural event and details of other visiting French companies will be available nearer the time.

Four young French playwrights will be reading translations of their own plays at London's Royal Court during the week of June 5. Both plays will reflect current styles and concerns in French drama. The Royal Court also has a translation of Fireface, a prize-winning German play, beginning on May 5.

Information about visiting companies can be gleaned from the cultural institutes attached to embassies, and language centres, as well as newspaper and magazine theatre listing pages.

Many small but vigorous European companies are invited to the UK for street and theatre festivals, but you often have to search for company details in the publicity small print. Manchester's "Streets Ahead" festival, April 24 to May 29, has nine visiting French language companies.

STAGE CONTACTS: European Theatre Company, tel: 020 8544 1994

Theatre sans Fronti res, tel: 01434 606787

Royal Court Theatre, tel: 020 7565 5000

Streets Ahead, tel: 0161 224 0020

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