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A new world dawns in NW3

New is now at Hampstead Theatre. The New Directions season of new writing there coincides with the establishment of a new education department. Under the directorship of ex-teacher Jonathan Siddall, it is already making inroads into local schools in the London borough of Camden, most of which have never had ties with a theatre.

Siddall's first project is a cross-phase programme of work inspired by Philip Ridley's Fairytaleheart, the only one of the five plays in New Directions written for young people. Working with 13 primary, secondary and special schools and Kingsway College, Siddall has tailored the work to make it relevant to the different age groups.

While the primary schools are mainly concerned with using Fairytaleheart - an engaging look at the power of fantasy to solve real life problems - to examine the transformation from script to stage, secondary school students are also working on aspects of production such as set design, props and front-of-house material. Year 9 students at Hampstead School made candle holders and designed and wrote the programme for the play, including biographies of the writer and actors.

On March 15, a selection of work devised during visits to the schools by Siddall, Philip Ridley and the actors will be presented at Hampstead Theatre.

The day I visited, Siddall was working with a Year 6 group at St Paul's School in Primrose Hill. The children's nervous warm-up exercises quickly gave way to some hot improvisations, and, in pairs, they acted out the opening scene of Fairytaleheart, taking the roles of Kirsty, who has just run out of her own birthday party in distress, and Gideon, the hygienically challenged but wise boy who leads her on a journey of self-discovery. The children, who hadn't read beyond the first page of text, showed each other how giving a different emphasis to words can change the meaning.

Siddall sees this project as just the beginning of what he hopes will be a productive relationship with schools. "I want to ensure that the work relates to the curriculum and isn't just focused on performance," he says.

"The idea is to establish interactive relationships with schools, offering teaching skills as well as bringing them into the theatre for performances. "

New Directions runs until March 21. All school parties receive a free workshop. Tel 0171 722 9301


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