1.5million children can't all be wrong

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Sleeping Beauty Hopscotch Theatre Company Age range: P1-P7 touring schools until January 16 tel 0141 440 2025 www.hopscotchtheatre.com

Christmas is the time for tradition so, along with the holly and mistletoe, comes the Hopscotch Theatre Company and Sleeping Beauty.

The company has been visiting primary schools for 15 years now and, as with all good traditions, little has changed over the years. And why should it? The aesthetes may frown and the Scottish Arts Council remain aloof but Grant Smeaton's brainchild ticked off its 50th production (The Romans in Scotland) on its 15th birthday and with it the calculation that its audience figures in primary schools total no fewer than 1,450,000. And it goes on. Hopscotch has four companies playing Sleeping Beauty and the arithmetic is that by mid-January another 50,000 will be added to the figure.

Success has come through spotting the market niche. As the company made its 15th visit to St Francis Primary in Glasgow, headteacher Moira McGlynn was in no doubt of Hopscotch's value.

"Many of the parents around here could not afford to send their children to the theatre," she said. "This way, I can bring theatre for the whole school without any of the problems that come with taking children out of the building. And Hopscotch are very good at linking in with the curriculum, and they're always so reliable, so dependable."

This trust between company and customer is grounded on the unchanging format of the Hopscotch product. Founder Grant Smeaton still directs, Raymond Burke still writes the scripts and, somehow, they go on persuading versatile actors with rude health and stamina to drive around in a second-hand van for a month, playing the shows.

At St Francis Primary, the four players drove up about 20 minutes before show time to carry in the sets and costumes. Sneaking around the back about five minutes before the start - the time when some actors are tuning their voices or finding their inner selves - I found them hurriedly eating rolls.

"Lunch," they explained.

Amazingly, none of this put them off and they come back for more. Sylvia Rome is playing both the Good and the Bad Fairy in what is her fourth Hopscotch show. She keeps her fitness levels up as a disciple of the vigorous and disciplined art of Japanese taiko drumming.

If there is anything in the pantomime remotely resembling sophistication, it comes from Calum Beaton, returning for his third show to play King Clutha of Glaschu and assorted princes. It is his proposal that the whole populace, that is the audience, should sleep for 100 years with the princess.

St Francis Primary rather jibbed at this. Schoolchildren are not always on the side of their heroines. (I was reminded of the audience for a rather dire Anne Frank who greeted the Gestapo with "Look behind the bookcase!") This was no reflection on Pauline King, who oscillates between the raucous Queen and the fragrant Princess Rosamund, whom the audience desperately try to keep awake with a rowdy song.

All this must seem a far cry from the kind of work every young actor craves, in her case, the television advertisement for Scottish Blend tea.

That's all to come for Gavin Jon Wright, who got his HND at Coatbridge College last year and has won his Equity card as Lester the Jester.

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