Playing to the strengths of young actors

From Kirkwall and Dumfries to London and Lingen (in Germany) people come to be part of the Scottish Youth Theatre festival and it is worth the journey.

There are three plays this summer: The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil tours community venues, while the main stage of the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow holds The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and its Circle Studio almost bursts its walls for Through the Looking-Glass.

These are canny choices by festival director Mary McCluskey, who knows how to play to her strengths. Youth theatre attracts schoolgirls, so she gets them to play the Marcia Blaine School girls, whose well-drilled obedience and demure good manners make older teachers groan with nostalgia. The real ingenuity is that while the excellent Alison Rhodes (as Miss Brodie) can age, the pupils get younger. Double casting of her "special gels" means they can grow up through the seven years of the story. It all makes for a compelling version of a resonant story, which the director resonates still more by foregrounding the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany.

An adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice tale by Fiona McGarry is given glamorous rock 'n' roll treatment by director Kenny Miller. In a free-wheeling sequence of theatrical images, the original characters come with contemporary spin.

Revealing and concealing costumes and wigs add to the hypnotic flamboyance of the action, which alternates surreally humorous dialogue with raucous singing, some of it Lennon McCartney and some of it by musical director Keith Munro. Add to that the strut-your-stuff choreography of the cast and the result is an irresistible spectacle.

Again, it plays to the strengths of young people. What experience teaches an actor is range and subtlety. Through the Looking-Glass asks for performance rather than acting, for excess rather than judgment and this company delivers in spades.

The Scottish Youth Theatre has been going for 25 years now and in that time it has changed from being something for young people to do in the holidays to a resourceful and confident powerhouse of drama and theatre work, whose year-long training and educational programmes are topped off with quality productions. In the theatrical desert that is Glasgow in summer, where would we be without it?

Brian Hayward

Scottish Youth Theatre, tel 0141 221 5127.

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