Massacre at the prom

A US high school horror story is just one of a host of education-themed Edinburgh shows this year, reports Shafik Meghji

Shows about bullying heads, failing comprehensives, a high-school prom massacre and the teenage psyche will jostle with the usual high opera and low camp at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe this year.

In Comprehensive, comedian Steve Day examines the humorous side of state schools, while in Professional Teenager, former teacher turned stand-up, Geoff Norcott looks at the difficulties young people face.

Mr Norcott, who taught English, said that performing in front of 30 pupils was suitable preparation for doing stand-up. He said: "A year ago I was looking at what was going on in the news and there was loads of stuff about hoodies and Asbos. This, allied to the furore over exam results, made me think, 'Teenagers are getting a bit of kicking'. I felt a growing empathy for them so tried to write something in support of them.

"Then my car got broken into and I ended up chasing these kids up the road, so of course I had to undercut it with a bit of reality."

He said teaching had provided a wealth of material. "In one report I wrote, 'Jordan showed a terrific flair for resistant materials'. He had actually broken into the school with a hammer."

The staffroom of a failing school is the setting for Teacher's Playground, a dark comedy drama from the Chelsea Players theatre company. Clea Langton, the director, said: "The headteacher is a real bully and the premise is that bullying goes on in the staffroom as well as the playground."

The play has gone down well with teachers, said Ms Langton, a part-time drama teacher at a London secondary which she stressed bore no relation to the one in the play. "A lot of teachers saw it in London and said the conversation in the staffroom rang true. Some even said it reminded them of their school."

Other plays with school themes include Another Country, about 1930s private school life, and Our Time, about a massacre at an American high school prom.

Forty nine shows are being put on by schools at the festival, which runs throughout August.

Sandbach school, in Cheshire, recently granted arts college status, returns to Edinburgh for a third time with four productions, including a 1920s version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. "We are taking 110 pupils aged 14 to 18 to Edinburgh and they are raring to go,"

said drama teacher James Smith. "About 20 members of staff are also going up to help out."

Ed Easton, 18, who plays Mozart in Amadeus, said: "The best thing is people will have chosen to see our play instead of thousands of others."

Performing at the festival is not cheap; the production of Sandbach's four plays, as well as transport and accommodation costs, comes to pound;20,000. "It was raised through a lot of fund-raising events," said Mr Smith. "We don't have the capital of the private sector but the performing arts are a big part of the school's existence."

Shrewsbury school, an independent boys' boarding school in Shropshire, is putting on a pound;50,000 musical version of Frankenstein. It raised the money through events and sponsorship.

"Edinburgh's fantastic," said James Marshall, head of English. "You're competing against thousands of other shows and you've got to be worth your salt. It's great for the children to get a taste of grown-up theatre."

Six students from Millfield, the independent school in Somerset, will perform Greek, Steven Berkoff's modern take on Oedipus, set in London's East End, with the twist of an all-female cast. "A few of us went up to the Fringe last year as audience members and thought it would be cool to take part," said Charlotte Bell, 18.

Other schools performing include Bromley high, which tackles Sarah Kane's challenging 4.48 Psychosis and Dauntsey's private school, Wiltshire, will be staging Assassins, a dark comic musical about American killers.

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