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Teach your children well

DURING a recent review of our school, the observer who visited my fourth year made some kind remarks about how my "dramatised" reading of a Bernard MacLaverty short story had held the class's attention. Naturally, I was flattered. But, with typical Scottish male "cringe", I was a wee bit worried that I might have been a little "over the top" in my reading - and that would never do.

The next day I was given some perspective by the death of John McGrath, founder of the 7:84 Theatre Company, inspiration behind Z Cars, bete noire of the Scottish Arts Council. I was taken back to my second year at university when The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil hit the Edinburgh Lyceum like a whirlwind.

I saw it three or four times during its various runs at that theatre and was led on to further 7.84 productions: Little Red Hen, Joe's Drum, Blood Red Roses, and on to musical offshoot, Wildcat. It was a time when Scottish theatre was rampant, with Bill Bryden's Willie Rough and the late, much loved Roddy McMillan in his own play, The Bevellers.

I couldn't overestimate the impact that The Cheviot had on my student generation. The music, the set, the message and the company all combined brilliantly. I fell in love with the doe-eyed Elizabeth MacLennan, was moved by the Gaelic songs of Dolina Maclennan, and rocked with laughter by the comedic artistry of John Bett, Alec Norton and Bill Patterson, whose wide boy introduction: "Imagine, if yez wull . . ." has become part of the language.

In these times of manufactured celebrity and instant fame, the notion of entertainment with a serious message seems almost quaint. You could say, I suppose, that McGrath was an idealist who operated on the fringes, but the fringes he operated on were the geographical and economic outposts of our country where theatre and drama were believed to be "non viable" by those who quango our arts provision. He proved them wrong, and he did make a difference.

He gave us permission to listen to our conscience and he showed us graphically, time and again in many different media, that it is possible to instruct without being didactic and to entertain without being banal.

Come to think of it, that's not a bad approach to teaching and learning - get them by the funny bones and the hearts and minds will follow. I'd like to think McGrath's amused laughter will be somewhere near the next time my lesson plan begins: "Imagine, if yez wull . . ."

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