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Drugs: having the nerve to say 'No'

Drug education no longer relies on horrific images. Instead, several theatre in education (TIE) programmes touring schools are adopting a harm-minimisation approach: drug use is accepted as a social fact, the emphasis is on giving young people the confidence to say "No".

Steven is the key figure of Michele Taylor's On the Edge, for nine to 13-year-olds. Uprooted from Croydon to Nottingham, all but ignored by none too happily married parents and busy teachers, he tries to join a tough mob at school by outdoing them in glue-sniffing.

Taylor and director Roger Watkins adopt an up-front approach - plenty of bags over noses - in the capable production on tour from Nottingham Playhouse's Roundabout Theatre Company. But the script swings over-conveniently between crises, never letting characters develop.

A contrastingly gentle approach is shown in a Roundabout show, Lin Coghlan's Broken Angel, retoured by Sheffield's Crucible Theatre education department. This primary drugs programme focuses on alcohol and makes the user a parent (in all these programmes the older generation are defensive and hypocritical).

Roundabout's work forms part of a Nottinghamshire Education Committee GEST-funded project under the Government's Tackling Drugs Together scheme. The Drug Education Team created with this money has organised teacher and governor training, and last week hosted Fair Ground, a conference on drugs education through the arts. On the Edge was being performed there, with Roundabout's Forbidden Fruit, a play that focuses on women and drugs.

Writerdirector Nona Shepphard's subversive opening grabs the audience, and her cunning structure encompasses diet, weight-loss and body shape in relation to drugs. A final song presents three choices: stay off drugs, use them for fun or become addicted; only the last is vetoed though the recreational user Monica is shown worrying over loss of her periods.

As its title suggests, Sheppard's play uses the Eden myth: Eve, played by Kyla Goodey, makes a tough decision to avoid drugs. It's a long way from the lights, music, action of this show to n.e.choices, Northern Stage Company's participation programme (Strathclyde University will follow the teenage audiences' attitudes to drugs over the next three years).

Debbie, 15, fancies a lad, spends others' money on drugs at his party then steals from her father. Acted scenes weave through warm-up games and forum theatre in which students can try out alternative responses to characters' decisions. This programme emphasises the themes of self-esteem and trusting relationships that drama can show as a protection against the desire for drugs.

Nottingham: Karen Smith 0115 953 5041; Newcastle upon Tyne: Tony Regan 0191 233 1972

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