All the world on stage

1st June 2001 at 01:00

GIZMODON'T EAT LITTLE CHARLIE. By Alan AyckbournTankred Dorst.

CUBADOG HOUSE. By Liz LochheadGina Moxley.

ECLIPSEFRIENDLY FIRE. By Simon Armitage Peter Gill.

THE CHRYSALIDS. By David Harrower (after John Wyndham).

MORE LIGHT. By Byrony Lavery.

AFTER JULIET. By Sharman Macdonald. All Connections series:Books: Faber. pound;5.99 each.

Nelson Thornes Internet Resources on the plays:

BTNational TheatreConnections scheme: www.nt-online.orgyouth

Available from TES direct pound;4.99 each

The plays in the Connections series have their genesis in a National Theatre scheme funded by BT, to commission stimulating, sophisticated scripts for young people. These 11 plays, in seven volumes, provide a taster, and they certainly stimulate the appetite. There is no shying away from big themes; we have extreme fundamentalism, child abuse, civil war, teenage rebellion, uncertain sexuality, adolescent loss, even murder and cannibalism.

Two plays raise the question of why human beings fight. After Juliet continues the story of the Capulets and the Montagues in an urban setting which could be anywhere, any time. Sharman Macdonald employs a hard-edged, contemporary verse dialogue that cuts and thrusts through the complexities. On the other hand, Paul Goetzee's The Pilgrimage has a Brechtian flavour in its parable-like structure examiing the timeless difficulties of peace negotiations following bitter historical hatred.

It is the threat of a real war, the Cuban missile crisis, that disturbs and provokes the characters in Liz Lochhead's Cuba to small scale but direct political action, and the difficulties faced by young people getting to grips with the world are the bedrock of the plays by Simon Armitage, Peter Gill and Gina Moxley, too. Armitage constructs an elusive poetic dialogue in keeping with the mysterious character who is the catalyst for change, while Moxley's characters inhabit a much more realistic and grimmer world of silent suffering and savage fathers. Gill's Friendly Fire explores the uncertain ground of adolescent relationships and sexuality, particularly the challenges of masculinity.

Gizmo and Don't Eat Little Charlie are comic and inventive, the latter a whirlwind of wacky delight. The Chrysalids is a skilful adaptation of Wyndham's novel, cut and reshaped to reform the plot as drama.

More Light is beautiful and savage, its orientally austere language and patterning containing and revealing the horror and the sense of its events. Philip Ridley's Brokenville forms a parable of theatre itself, as survivors gather after a disaster and share stories.

There is plenty here for young actors, designers and directors to get their teeth into.

Noel Cassidy Noel Cassidy teaches English and drama at St Albans school, Hertfordshire

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