Tales of healing love give insight to young minds

Olive by Tamsin Oglesby Big Country by Tim Primrose Lyceum Youth Theatre at the Traverse, Edinburgh

One of the attractions of youth theatre is that it promises to let adults in on what the young people are doing. So, when Edinburgh's thriving Lyceum Youth Theatre and its talented actors came up with an interesting triple bill, it was not difficult to sidestep a stage version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and concentrate on the other two plays.

One was by an established playwright writing for young people and one by a young person, sprung from the ranks of the LYT, writing about young people. It was a bonus to find they had the same "all you need is love" theme.

Tamsin Oglesby wrote Olive for the nationwide festival of youth theatre run by the Royal National Theatre, where 12 established playwrights supply one-act plays for scores of adjudicated performances across Britain, with the best productions going to London's South Bank in September. Oglesby contributed a modern fairy tale where young lovers win happiness despite the ogres they have for parents.

Olive is the patient, long-suffering heroine and her name, in chunky, 3-D letters, is the set, rearranged as "love", "evil" and so on. She is taken from her loving foster family to live in an alien culture with her natural father, who punishes her for rejecting his cooking and religion by cutting off both her hands with a cleaver. Turned out of the house, she falls into despair and hatred of all things in this world and the next.

At this nadir of the play, she comes upon plum trees that bend to her with their fruit. The miracle is seen by the trees' owner, a tender young man whose parent problem is opposite to Olive's in that he is suffocated by motherly love.

Mother, whose husband is one of the "disappeared", is desperate to hold on to her son and is witch-like in her efforts to cause Olive's death in childbirth. However, this is a fairytale and it ends like one.

This fable of hatred and healing love fitted well with Big Country, Tim Primrose's second script for the LYT. His snapshot of growing up in a small town somewhere in lowland Scotland shows a gang of fourth, fifth and sixth year lads and lasses hanging about drinking on summer and autumn evenings, not behind the cricket pavilion or the railway station but, more challengingly, around the trigonometry point on the neighbourhood hill.

It is a lofty outlook for the playwright, who uses his teenagers to comment on the state of the nation in these post-devolution years from young people's point of view. Education, like much of the social fabric, gets only a moderate press: "School's a crap hole." "Well, it's a school, isn't it?" And streaming wins approval.

The joy of the play is the sharpness of Primrose's characterisation.

He fuels his rich range of voices with an interestingly broad range of alcohol. Parents will be relieved to know that the drunkenness gives rise to very little sex, though there is violence, physical and verbal, much of it between and on behalf of an English girl and a fourth year boy with a strong inclination to violence, guns and Anglophobia.

Ideas, and very occasionally people, are kicked around all summer long, but when winter comes and the epilogue is spoken, the youths take their partners and go their peaceable ways, to work or college. Except the one we take to be the writer's alter ego, who goes globe-trotting, and the headbanger, who stays at home, friendless and reclusive, brooding on his hatred, plotting who knows what.

Royal Lyceum education department, tel 0131 248 4830 www.lyceum.org.uk

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