Britain prepares to play host to rest of the world

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Sir Ian McKellen is going to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Such has been the response in the press, you might imagine that London theatre, effete, out of date and irrelevant, is about to close its doors for lack of "real" audiences.

Nevertheless, this is a coup for the Leeds theatre - and a potential treat for students studying The Seagull and The Tempest in which the knight from Bolton is to play the doctor and Prospero respectively. The season will also include the sort of piece most likely to attract teenagers, a stage version of Deadmeat, the cult novel by minimally-named multimedia artist Q - a multimedia presentation, naturally. The Playhouse also has an imaginative education programme, but more about that in future weeks. (Tickets: 0113 213 7700) Meanwhile, another set text, Hamlet, has been playing to young audiences at the Birmingham Rep, where two national critics praised the behaviour of school parties. So all is not lost, despite the summer's doom-laden pronouncements about the crisis in theatre, from, among, others, Sir Peter Hall. He has described the collapse of regional theatre as the greatest crisis facing the arts in Britain, and it is true that outside the main flagships, like the two mentioned (both of which have received stabilisation funding from the Lottery), theatre outside London is struggling. At least it means that curriculum plays are frequently programmed to attract a guaranteed audience. (This week's set play preview is on page 26.) Youth theatre, which runs more on enthusiasm than money, has other tales to tell. One day in July Sir Peter Hall and Mark Fisher MP (then Minister for the Arts) met young people from Redbridge Drama Centre at Shakespeare's Globe in Southwark. They were launching World Youth Theatre 2000 under a distinctive logo including nine waving sulphur-yellow hands. Sir Peter spoke of the value of the teamwork and creative energy of youth theatre; Mr Fisher concurred, adding modestly that he was probably the only schoolboy actor to play Caliban without make-up: "You're just fine as you are," said his teacher encouragingly.

World Youth Theatre 2000 is an ambitious and expensive millennial project. Twenty companies from all over the world will be invited to perform new work in various London indoor venues and then in Gilwell Park, Epping Forest, where they will join 2,000 British youth theatre members to take part in workshops and presentations under the title 2000 for 2000. The organisers hope that an opening World Festival of Youth Theatre will take place in the Dome itself.

There have been a few developments since July. Pam Bowell, co-director of the project, says that Dame Judi Dench and Zo Wanamaker have joined Sir Peter as patrons. There are now commitments from companies in Venezuela, Kerala (India), Zimbabwe and Detroit - whose application was endorsed by the group's patron, Kevin Spacey.

And the money? Pam Bowell says they have been promised a good deal in kind, such as free publicity and design, but still need Pounds 300,000.

Disadvantaged young people from Bolivia, Colombia and The Netherlands will be joining Welsh teenagers in Cardiff next week to pool their dance, drama and music in a collaborative piece, Streetwise, about life on the margins of society. Drugs and crime are predictable themes. Four performers will come from each country to play at Clwb Ifor on October 18. (Tickets: 01222 301112) Even the Schools Prom will have an exotic international element this year. Adugna Community Dance Theatre from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will arrive in England on October 16 for a four-week visit which will include a showcase performance at the Royal Albert Hall during the first night of the Schools Prom on November 2. The 18 former street children, aged 14 to 21, were brought together last year for a five-year vocational training programme in traditional and contemporary dance to enable them to become community performers, teachers and workshop leaders. While they are here they will continue to work with Royston Muldoom, the choreographer, and Desta Mamo, their teacher in traditional dance, but will also hold workshops of their own for people of all ages, including primary school children. The programme is managed by the Ethiopian Gemini Trust, one of Christian Aid's partners in the country. For more information, phone 01865 760319.

The three Schools Prom evenings at the Albert Hall (November 2 to 4) offer the usual mixture of musical styles from young performers of all ages. There will be everything from Gospel singers, Irish fiddlers and jazz to full orchestras, an Asian ensemble from Birmingham, electric violins and Welsh music theatre. One innovation is the deployment of buskers at the main entrance, adding another six groups to the 33 on stage.

Government ministers have promised to attend, but they will already have seen Music for Youth in action this autumn. Much to the delight of its director, Larry Westland, groups have been playing at all the main conferences this season. In fact, so cheerful is Westland at the political interest in saving schools music and instrumental teaching (due in part to the success of the TES campaign, Music for the Millennium) that he has gone so far as to declare, "I'm beginning to think - I say it cautiously - that the tide may be turning. " (Music for Youth: 0181 870 9624) Heather Neill

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