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Somewhere over the sea-cloth


TAG theatre company touring schools until late June

TAG is taking youngsters on a voyage of the imagination with participatory theatre. Brian Hayward joins them.

The theatre company TAG plays an expansive hand in its work with schools. At the mid-point of its three-year Making the Nation programme, which has ranged from Julius Caesar in primary schools to the "children's government" at the desks of the MSPs on the Mound, education director Carol Healas has chosen to tour a participatory performance cum workshop designed to raise levels of literacy.

Her selected text is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, with a (perhaps elderly) target audience of Primary 3-4. The pupils are led from their classroom into designer Janie Andrew's "space", comprising a swirly patterned floor squared off with coloured screens and cut-out trees. It is bedroom-sized, necessarily, and a far cry from the designer's recent sculpture trail for the National Trust of Scotland, and her carnival figures for the tall ships at Greenock.

After the introductions are made at St Mirin's Primary, in Glasgow, and once the pupils have settled on the floor, Linda Duncan McLaughlin (in her fifth show for TAG) starts to read the book. This is the cue for Craig Fraser to make his entrance in his role of Max, the disruptive pupil, a performance P3-4 are quick to admire.

Ms Healas has a confident grasp of mood and hints of music are enough to translate the place to mischievous Max's bedroom, where he is banished, betimes and supperless, by McLaughlin's irate mother and narrator.

Now Fraser's undoubted child appeal is given full rein. The pupils help him to transform the room into a colourful forest, complete with hanging vines spread by chains of dancers chanting "Ee-Yo, Oh-Ya" to the atin beat.

When the children make sea-noises - clicking like crab pincers, singing like dolphins and slapping like waves - mischievous Max produces a cut-out yacht and sails away across the sea-cloth, rippled by four pairs of young hands, to the island where the wild things are.

The children learn to grimace and roar. Then their efforts are crowned with monster masks and they present themselves, gesturing and roaring like lord or lady, soldier or servant, to King Max when he enters with a fanfare at his coronation. The enthroning of King Max provides a time for the class to reflect on what they would do if they had absolute power: "Eat a million hamburgers", "Have millions of pounds."

Max holds a wild dance for his creatures, exhorting them in turn to frighten the birds in the sky and frighten their own knees. Then, suddenly, he is homesick, he thinks he can smell chips. He wants to leave them and go home.

There is speculation on why kings should abdicate: "They have to worry about their people, and taxes and things."

Max says he is missing his dog, and the story is put into reverse, with such panache that at the end, when the class are asked to name their favourite parts of the story, one girl chooses the way Max turned back the cut-out trees.

McLaughlin ends by asking the class some teasing, open-ended questions and is rewarded with some thoughtful answers. She rounds off the programme by asking for one last monster roar.

TAG will be touring the storybook workshop until the end of June to schools from Glasgow and Clackmannan to the Borders, though their highlight will be in mid-May when the company visits New York state to play in four elementary schools.

For details of Borders, Glenrothes and East Lothian shows, call Karen Gadsby at TAG, tel 0141 552 4949

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