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Just say 'yes' to anti-drugs plays

Brian Hayward reports on a theatre in education company that aims to give added value with its school performances

A primary teacher neighbour had the habit of taking her class down to the loch every summer for a little pond-dipping, tree recognition, mathematics of height, depth and distance, that sort of thing. It won't happen this year. "We don't have time for anything like that now, we've too many targets."

For teachers, it seems the trick nowadays is not to let their targets get in the way of their aim, and the same goes for those theatre-in-education companies who have to make their work accountable in strict curriculum terms and still keep their theatrical magic.

Just such a group is the Glasgow-based Fablevision Theatre Company, which now has developed a trilogy of plays for Primary 45, P67 and Secondary 12, all centred on drugs awareness but deliberately over-lapping into other areas of classroom concern.

Many teachers will be familiar with the "middle" play, I Don't Want to be Like That, in their repertoire since 1984. It was part of an unusual Fablevision double-bill at Ruchazie Primary school in Glasgow, where headteacher William Newell had booked the production for the second time in two years. "Although Glasgow has a very serious health policy, with whole-school guidelines, and the school operates a comprehensive drugs awareness programme," he says, "Fablevision are different, and the more different ways of alerting the children the better."

Actordirector Gerry McHugh and Laura Ellis play Bob and Julie, two primary schoolchildren, he in a downward spiral of rebellion, theft and addiction, she with the chance of "not being like that".

They also play the beer-swilling, smoking, pill-popping adult world: the selfish, harassed single mum, the indifferent father, the "deaf" social worker, the tabloid journalist, the hypocritical teachers.

The script cleverly flicks from home to school to youth club and the two actors switch rols with a snap of the finger. They also sing and McHugh rocks the title-song with his air guitar indecently well.

Proof that the children are absorbed by the performance is evident in Ellis's workshop afterwards, where they remember almost every gesture and word.

That post-play consolidation prepares the classes for follow-up work, for which Fablevision's education officer, Dave Mason, has produced an outstanding teaching resource folder, written in collaboration with health and education authorities, particularly the Glasgow Drugs Prevention Scheme and the Greater Glasgow Health Board, and sent to every primary and special school in Glasgow. It sums up the script scene by scene, highlighting themes, prompting discussion and setting out language, drama and art work.

"Best of all", says class teacher Alana Ross, "the two video tapes in the pack give you the play scene by scene, so the class can examine and analyse it themselves."

After lunch, a second Fablevision team perform Helter-Skelter, a new work designed for P45 and the attainment targets in the 5-14 health education levels B and C.

A girl is left at home as a punishment while her mother and brother go to the fair. So she fantasises a fair - the coconut shy, the ghost train, the fortune-teller and the rest - excitingly conjured up by the three performers as a kind of nightmarish moral maze in which every fairground experience becomes a metaphor for drug-related and other behaviour.

Francis Hagan switches between an impresario and a villainous dodgem roadie, Georgette Ratcliffe includes an Irish fortune-teller among her cameos, and Georgina Bell is the fantasiser.

The success of the play may depend on how well children can read theatrical symbolism, but for the classroom work every possible help comes with Ratcliffe's workshop and a resource pack.

Mason also conducts workshops for interested parents.

Fablevision, tel 0141 425 2020

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