A better class of murder
The Studio Theatre at the MacRobert in Stirling had never looked and smelled this good: seven candle-lit, beautifully laid dinner tables with the aroma of mouth-watering cuisine wafting in the air. Guests were greeted by a motley variety of characters, dressed variously as headteacher, janitor, bishop, yellow-wigged pop singer, army squaddie, to name but a few. These, it turned out, were to be the suspects in murders which would ensue during the staged reunion of Bowrie Academy's class of '97.
The lights went down and, before soup could be served, the audience was introduced to each of the class, gathering to celebrate their latter-day victory on the football pitch.
The intriguing thing about this production was not knowing what to expect of the evening. It was difficult to imagine how a three-course meal would be fitted into the production of the play.
A murder after each course was the solution, with the audience invited to work out the murderer's identity. It was serious stuff and those familiar with the works of Agatha Christie and having well-developed powers of logic were easily spotted.
All the young people taking part in Dial R for Reunion, from actors to chefs and waiters, are currently clients of the Clackmannanshire Secondary Schools Support Service, working either in the centre in Alloa or in their own secondary school - Alva Academy, Alloa Academy or Lornshill Academy.
The service, which works closely with the children's panel, social services and educational psychology service, as well as learning support and guidance staff in the schools, provides support, liaising with parents and ensuring educational provision for young people for whom the system has failed to work.
Each young person is involved with the centre for a minimum of six weeks on a programme that combines community work and college placement with continuing studies for Standard grade and vocational modules. It's all about raising self-esteem and confidence, developing social skills and generally encouraging a positive attitude in those for whom life has been extremely troubled.
Dial R for Reunion provided the perfect platform for staff and youngsters to show off their success in achieving many of these aims. The most striking aspect of this was their enthusiasm for the entire production.
The actors were larger than life and hilarious: Bob the Squaddie's parade-ground responses shook the floor of the theatre (he turned out to be the murderer), the temperamental chef Jean-Luc Leboeuf clearly enjoyed his perpetual "sacre bleu" tantrums and wee Humphrey the Jannie (a shady character if ever there was one) stunned the audience with an extraordinarily beautiful singing voice.
But it is against the ethos of the support service to pick individual members for praise. The entire cast were entertaining and demonstrated the pride they so obviously have in the centre and the friendships they enjoy with its staff of teachers and youth workers.
An additional spirit of co-operation came from the close liaison with the actors in residence at the MacRobert Centre, Annie Wood and Andy Cannon, who have worked on the production with the young people since Easter.
Recently recognised at a Parent Teachers Association conference as "a success of Scottish education", the Clackmannanshire Secondary Support Service is clearly marking the way forward for pupils who, through no fault of their own, have lost their way in the educational maze.