11th February 2000 at 00:00
Drama and theatre studies are popular school subjects and thousands of young people take part in stage events every year, yet theatre still struggles against its elitist label. Well, the stumbling block of high ticket prices is real enough: live performances don't come cheap. There are ways around this, though, of which more in a minute.

It's as well to remember, when there is so much publicity about the glamorous, multi-million pound glitzy side of the business, that theatre can be subversive. A Romanian Hamlet in the Ceausescu era was little short of seditious. In South Africa, theatre both gave a voice to those unable otherwise to express frustration and anger with apartheid and helped change the political climate. The playwright Athol Fugard and the Market Theatre in Johannesburg (granted a licence because it was, literally, in a market, where the races could not realistically be separated) are synonymous with the movement against apartheid. Now the National Theatre is providing the opportunity to see one of the most famous plays from this era.

The Island was written in 1974 and is set in the notorious Robben Island, which then housed hundreds of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. Fugard and two black actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, collaborated on a script while they waited for passports to England to stage other anti-apartheid pieces at the Royal Court Theatre. The Island had an immediate impact, both in South Africa and later in London, but Kani (now artistic director of the Market Theatre) and Ntshona are themselves performing the piece for the last time.

Two prisoners share the indignities and hardships of incarceration and hard labour. Their interdependence - which recalls Waiting for Godot - is expressed in humour and irritation as they prepare a version of Antigone for a prison concert.

Fugard often worked on classic plays with his young actors. At first, Kani now says, he couldn't see the point of doing ancient texts, but he eventually realised their power. There is no doubt in the parallels between Antigone defying the power of Creon as representative of the state to bury her brother and the courage of the indomitable prisoners. In rep until February 26. Tickets: 020 74523000 The Medea story was American playwright Neil LaBute's inspiration for one of the three short plays which make up Bash at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. Medea Redux is an emotionally searing but funny and tautly written monologue in which a young woman (Mary McCormack) describes the affair she had with a teacher when she was 13. Anyone familiarwith the Greek original will not need too many clues as to the outcome. Tickets: 020 73594404.

There are reductions for under-18s, people with disabilities and group bookings at the National Theatre, and Almeida mailing list members receive ticket offers. Groundlings pay only pound;5 at Shakespeare's Globe and many theatres have student discounts or pay-what-you-can nights. The Mousetrap Foundation runs the teachers preview club, which provides discounted tickets to West End shows, special price group tickets for schools, and a members' newsletter with follow-up ideas for the classroom. Membership is pound;15 per annum. Mother Courage and Les Miserables are among the options this spring. Information: 020 7413 3545.

New Generation Audiences may be a way to obtain completely free tickets for sports and arts events: after a six-month pilot scheme in London and Essex, NGA will now soon be available nationwide. Log on to to learn more.

Very young new audiences, aged five to nine, are expected this spring at the Lewisham Theatre in south-east London and then at venues in Bury St Edmunds, Norwich and finally the Tricycle Theatre in north-west London, when popular picture book author Errol Lloyd's The Magic Box takes to the boards. This is an around-the-world adventure with music, magic tricks, dancing, painting and spelling games. Guzzu the magician searches the world with his niece Winnie Watercolour to find naughty Jack who has escaped from his box, taking the magician's wand with him. Information from the Tricycle: 020 7328 1000 Thirty-two groups of five to seven-year-olds from Birmingham schools will combine drama and an experience of visual arts - painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and installation - in The Ikon Trail at the Ikon Gallery in the city next month. Theatre company Language Alive will encourage participants to become explorers, discovering themselves and the world around them. The project will run alongside the Lost exhibition, which features work by international artists and takes the notion of being "lost" as its theme. Children will be encouraged to lose themselves within the exhibition. Details: 0121 248 0708.

Artists at the Chisenhale Gallery in east London have been working with young people aged six to 19 from special schools in Tower Hamlets. An exhibition of their resulting work - paintings, drawings, constructions and some on video - can be seen in Get Art! at the Chisenhale Gallery until Sunday, 1pm to 6pm daily. for information about future education projects: 020 89814518.

Heather Neill.

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