Storm the Highlands

Jim Love

Storming Eden Court Theatre Inverness, November 19.

It is 40 years since the Royal Court Theatre first staged John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, but London's premier showplace for new writing is still discovering angry young men and women.

Two of the four plays staged in Inverness, Aberdeen and Stirling last week as part of the Royal CourtMarks and Spencer Young Writers' Festival reflected how little has changed since Osborne's Jimmy Porter first raged against his lot.

Verbally and recreationally, Stuart Swarbrick's Drinking, Smoking and Toking occupied Train-spotting territory. Keenly observed, the play's disaffected and violent characters were drawn from the 15-year-old Broxburn schoolboy's own experiences and told of Andy's efforts to break out of the vicious circle being set back by guilt at the suicide of the gang's weakest member.

In The Future Is Betamax, 23-year-old Dubliner Nicholas Kelly's subtle study of relationships, the protagonist is rejected by employers, rebuffed by a female flatmate and resentful of a widely-travelled newcomer. A desperate venture into petty crime only adds to his sense of failure.

If both plays offered little light relief and the heavy-going was compounded by the actors' misjudgment of Eden Court's acoustics, the performances by a cast of young professionals were otherwise accomplished and enhanced by the spare, adaptable set and effective lighting.

The plays by the two youngest winners - The Separation, a Jacobite drama by 11-year-old Matty Chalk of Edinburgh, and the surreal comedy, Business as Unusual, by 12-year-old Michael Shaw of West Lothian - were performed for a younger audience earlier in the day and were followed by a lively question-and-answer session conducted by Caroline Hall, director of The Future Is Betamax.

"What's it like inside that monkey suit?'' - "Very hot."

"Which of the plays do you like best?'' - "The one I do most in."

"Have any of you been on the telly?'' - "Yes. Casualty . . . Heartbeat . . . The Crow Road."

"Have any of the plays been changed since they were first written?'' - "Yes, quite a lot."

"The plays by the youngest writers were slightly rewritten or cut,'' Hall went on. "They didn't go through the same dramaturgical process as the older writers. Each year we target a specific region and this year, we did workshops in Inverness, Plockton and the Borders as well as the Central Belt. We encourage people up to the age of 23 to write plays and this year we received more than 150. Having made an initial choice which were workshopped with professional actors, directors and dramaturgs - who are like writing tutors - the writers went away to revise their scripts and we selected 11 for further workshops before a final six were chosen for production."

Their efforts were worthwhile, but it was an affront to a company of the Royal Court's reputation - and an enterprise which has produced new talents such as Jonathan Harvey, Nick Grosso, Judy Upton and Andrea Dunbar, who have made their careers writing for television, films and theatre - that it did not attract greater support from Highland schools and the general public.

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