TAG theatre company is embarking on its most ambitious collaboration with schools to accompany its touring production of Antigone, says Brian Hayward
In the closest collaboration ever offered to Scottish schools by a theatre company, TAG is combining its tour of Antigone with a programme of workshops, demonstrations and "investigations" for Standard grade and Higher pupils in English and drama.
The tour itself is a result of a triple coincidence. In the first place, TAG supremo James Brining had long nursed the idea of directing the play for a schools audience because, as he says: "It is that rarity - a classic play which puts a young girl at the very centre of the action."
Added to that, the main theme of the play - the tension between individual freedom and the state - puts the drama firmly in the category of "political play", and TAG is in the second year of its impressive four-year programme "Making the Nation", an extended, politicising dialogue with which the company is engaging the young people of Scotland.
The third strand is the not-unimportant fact that the play is one of the recommended texts for Higher drama. Those who can, plan long and deep, and for the last two years TAG has been encouraging drama teachers to choose the Sophocles, even though actor and teacher will be using different translations.
TAG commissioned a new version of the play from writer Sarah Woods, a lecturer on the Birmingham University playwriting course, whose commentary on "Adapting a Classic Text" is one of the seven contributions to a resource booklet for teachers working on the play, which comes free to any school booking tickets.
However, TAG will be careful to use the prescribed text in the special, day-long Higher drama investigations, the delivery of which education director Carol Healas will share with Brining. For her, they are the most exciting aspect of the programme.
"Teachers need to know what they're buying into before they upset the school timetable for a full day, but for the Higher students to spend the day working on the text, with help from James (Brining) and the actors, should be so valuable."
Director and actors are also back in the theatres in the afternoons, co-operating in the popular "Lecture Demonstrations" for Standard grade English and drama students.
On the theme of "from the page to the stage", they cover every aspect of staging a play and, Healas reports, "they are the most user-friendly way, in TAG's experience, of introducing the play, especially to English students who don't like standing up and doing things.
"But there's ots of interactive opportunity, especially in the way of interpretation".
To operate the in-school workshops, supporting Standard and Higher grade English and Standard grade drama, TAG has called up Naomi Ludlam, its drama artist-in-residence in Dumfries and Galloway. The company makes a point of being flexible in its response to teachers, and because these workshops are designed as a preparation to seeing the play, it urges teachers to tell TAG exactly what they want from the company.
And finally, the teachers. Top of the "wanted" list from teachers of drama is help from TAG with the recurring exam question that begins, "From the point of view of the directoractorI" For these teachers, Carol Healas is running a full day in-service workshop she calls "Directing in the Classroom", sharing practical approaches and professional rehearsal techniques.
This workshop is being made available by every local authority on the tour, and Healas stresses that teachers can apply for any of these events.
This should provide an interesting comparison for Highers students. Sarah Woods tilts the agonising equipoise of the original to side with the younger female against her autocratic uncle. She gives the audience a feisty young heroine (Molly Innes) with whom they can identify, a young girl driven by emotion, rather than passion.
Her reactions are instinctive rather than reasoned, and in her demotic debates with Creon you realise how close Socratic dialogue can come to a stairheid row. Even more striking is the twist the writer gives to the Chorus (William Elliott), represented here as a sort of time traveller from the 21st century, newly arrived at the gates of the city.
As a mouthpiece, his soliloquies make stimulating contemporary connections, but the downside comes when he has to interact. Drama is about relationships, and Chorus doesn't have them.
It is unfortunate for Creon (the lofty Matthew Zajac) in his attempts to establish the dignity of law that he has to make this rootless individual a companion, and it is left to Eurydice (Linda Duncan McLaughlin) at the very end to raise our spirituality.
Citizens, Glasgow, August 30-September 9
Dundee Rep, September 12-16
Garrison, Shetland, September 20,21
Eden Court, Inverness, September 27
Invergordon, September 28
Armadale, September 30
Greenock, October 3
Falkirk, October 4
Glenrothes, October 5,6
Brunton, Musselburgh, Oct 12-14
Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, Oct 24,25
Dumfries Theatre Royal, Oct 27, 28
Contact TAG, tel: 0141 552 4949