Classical stage for classic Scottish myth

6th July 2001 at 01:00
If you were in Athens last weekend, you might have seen a TAG sweatshirt or two among the crowd in the Theatre of Dionysus, as members of the company took time off from a theatre-in-education conference.

They were there because Donna Baillie, depute head of Richmond Park school in Glasgow, remembered that TAG had done great work with some of their special educational needs pupils on their "Sense of Community" day at the desks of the Scottish Parliament and called for their help again. This time it was to round off the school's participation in Mimesis, a European research project exploring partnerships between education and theatre, which demanded that every school complete its involvement by collaborating with a local arts company in the presentation of a local myth.

For the story, Richmond Park suggested the classic Scottish tale of the "Blue Men of the Minch" and tied it in with project work on ancient Greece. TAG's involvement was in two stages. First, the members worked for two days with the senior year group on story-telling theatre, after which the teachers helped the children write the story and poems that would make up the text. Then TAG returned with their props, wardrobe and theatre lights for five days of rehearsal towards the presentation.

The storyline, admirably narrated by John Francis Gartland, tells that those who sailed between Skye and the outer isles were allowed passage only if they can recite an acceptable poem. Accordingly, in the performance the masked and growling Blue Men disdain the Italian sailor's offer of pizza and the Greek ladies in chitons with their proffered olive oil and a piece of the Parthenon until the valiant McDuff, who announces himself with a burly version of "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks", clears the Minch for all posterity.

Carol Healas, TAG's education director, led the Richmond Park project and was joining the arts workers from all over Europe who were converging on Athens for the theatre-in-education conference that denoted the end of the Mimesis project.

Ms Healas had been selected as a workshop leader in Athens and used the opportunity to develop her interest in creating a partnership between schools and arts companies to monitor and evaluate arts work in schools. The conference was essentially a performance-based forum, and she took a video recording of Richmond Park's Blue Men of the Minch to show in Athens, promising to talk loudly over the part about offering up a bit of the Parthenon.

Brian Hayward

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