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Play comes to school

Jack and the Beanstalk. Hopscotch Theatre Company, tel:0141 440 2025.

Cinderella. MM Productions, tel: 01292 560903.

There was every chance that the coach taking the school to the theatre was passed in the opposite direction by the van taking the theatre to the schoolHopscotch Theatre Company, already something of a byword for whole-school entertainment, has put out three companies this year, taking Jack and the Beanstalk at #163;255 a throw to 170 schools in Strathclyde and the Central Belt. Susan McGregor, the company manager, taps away on her calculator: "Say an average of 42,500 children." When headteachers can claim over 20 visits from Hopscotch, it's clear the company must be doing something right.

Valerie Stewart, headteacher of Goldenhill Primary in Duntocher, is in no doubt. "Hopscotch are wonderful," she says. "They fire up the children's imagination. There they are, professional actors, helping to sit the children in rows, and then acting away in front of a pop-up set without any pretension. It's easy for our children to say 'I can do that', and we see the benefits in our own school productions."

She is in no doubt about the value of bringing the theatre to the school:

"Apart from the difficulty of hiring buses and getting adult supervisors,if you take young children to the theatre, the bus ride can be more memorable than the play. Here, in the gym, in school time and broad daylight, they simply focus entirely on the performance."

And at Goldenhill they did. When Jack comes in asking if anyone has seen his yet-to-appear cow, Primary 1 points firmly at the scenery.

Maybe the cast hasn't realised, but writerdirector designer Raymond Burke has painted tiny Friesians on a distant hillside. P2 is in constant communication with the actors to keep the play moving, answering questions,sometimes before they are asked. Mother is questioning Jack, but P2 wants to spill the beans. "I know that, but I want to hear it from him!" she snaps at them.

All this is a world away from the touring Cinderella from MM Productions,a glitzy Ayrshire-based company with five groups on the road this month, touring four different pantomimes to schools in southern Scotland and northern England. This company replicates in the school hall the kind of production values we used to expect in big theatre pantomime - the drama worker in residence.

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