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Interactive play hits the mark with boys

Mark is 15 and has exams in three weeks' time. His father communicates with him by shouting, while his mother tries to reach him through home baking. Des, his mate, is up for dangerous activities in Glasgow; Sheila, his girlfriend, is looking for a more "mature" relationship.

Such is the starting point for Out with the Lads, an excellent play commissioned by Forth Valley Health Trust and produced by West Lothian Youth Theatre. For any school seeking an innovative approach to addressing the problems of adolescent boys and their underachievement, this is a godsend.

The script is excellent, the acting compelling, but what places this production above other effective theatre in education projects is the care that has gone into preparation and ensuring relevance to the needs of schools.

Forget interactive television, this is interactive drama. Scenes are stopped while the audience gathers in groups to discuss Mark's options. These discussions are skilfully facilitated by members o the company and produce many interesting issues.

Later the audience gets to question the characters and is even able to stop the action to suggest how a character should proceed. In one session at our school a couple of our senior pupils were able to take over from the actors and improvise the characters' next moves.

For school staff, it was a tonic to see S3 pupils so involved and so energised by a personal and social education experience: they couldn't stop talking about it. They raved about the whole project and its relevance and, in particular, how it had avoided patronising them.

Its humour and understanding of the pressures they felt under themselves certainly hit the mark. They were given causes for reflection that will endure for a long time.

Out with the Lads has finished its latest run but if there is any justice it will soon return by popular demand.

Sean McPartlin is assistant headteacher at St Margaret's RC Academy, Livingston, West Lothian

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