Of Baird, Bell and bicycles

12th May 2000 at 01:00

Hopscotch theatre company touring until late June.

Now and again the Hopscotch theatre company is diverted from its comic scrutiny of Scottish history, and this is such a time. In its current tour of The Great Scottish Inventors' Adventure, it raises the dust around James Watt, John Logie Baird and Alexander Graham Bell and brushes the dust off the redoubtable Kirkpatrick MacMillan, blacksmith of Dumfries and inventor of the bicycle.

"Are you going to patent it?" "Naw, I like it the colour it is."

He rode his cumbersome velocipede 68 rough miles from his home to Glasgow, and was fined five shillings for speeding at 8mph through the Gorbals and knocking down a little girl.

The hearts of these Hopscotch actors must be pure, because they have the strength of 10. At Barrhead Primary, East Renfrewshire, they played to a noisy audience of 290 children, having already done two shows in Houston that morning, but still Raymond Short's pompous schoolmaster could bellow over the chatter to Annie (Stephanie Morris), who was busily getting lost in the audience.

Annie is the very successful hook for the audience. She falls asleep in a museum and dreams she goes back in time to meet the inventors. Her companion is the museum curator, Carol Pyper Rafferty, stealer of patents and would-be villain, except that primary schools don't rate the theft of old bits of paper very high on their scale of human evil.

Raymond Burke provides the script and you feel for him - inventors are not natual matinee idols and their creations were generally unimpressive to their contemporaries. A woman asked Faraday what use his newly invented dynamo was. "Madam, what use is a baby?" he replied.

Raymond Short plays a spirited James Watt, but you sense his desperation when he is explaining to the weans the value of his condenser and centrifugal governor.

The best of the production is the series of double acts between the frantic, manic Short and the suave, knowing Richard McLean, and their interplay gives a structure to a production that lacks a story. So they play Logie Baird as the manic inventor, selling his thermal socks for pound;1 a pair on the streets of London and demonstrating his mechanical television with boyish zeal, and Lord Reith as the suave man about town who takes him up and then drops him in favour of the American TV.

The oh-so-competent Alexander Graham Bell repeats the first words spoken on the telephone - "Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you" - to dizzy his assistant in the next room.

Finally, in a Glasgow courtroom, the judge who is frantically rushing about bashing creepie crawlies with his gavel is put into a panic by the thought of a velocipede, until reassured by the stolid blacksmith from Dumfries.

Wullie Brennan made the bicycle and all the props, which this gallant cast will manipulate twice a day until the end of June. After the summer holidays, they will be back with the Jacobites and narrative and the simpler inventions of metal and gunpowder.

Hopscotch, tel 0141 440 2025

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