Company helps to heal the divide

1st November 1996 at 00:00
+ From last month's history procession to this month's staging of The Borrowers, Fablevision adapts to survive, writes Brian Hayward.

Charles Darwin would have approved of Fablevision. "To adapt is to survive, " could be the company's motto. Blessed with talent, energy and enthusiasm, it pursues its goal of "theatre for all" wherever the funding takes it.

"It is this flexibility, this ability to be responsive, that helped us in lean times," says director Liz Gardiner. "Our master plan is not to have a master plan. All we have is our ethos and our philosophy."

Essentially, this is to make theatre "accessible to all". Hence the "community" thread that sews its work together, and the urge to seal the gaps between mainstream society and the have-nots, the minorities and the disabled.

As if to prove its adaptability, the company is now producing a Christmas play for primaries , an adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers, the saga of the little family that lives under the floorboards. For writer Chris Balance, it is a dream come true. When the Cottier in Glasgow changed from a church to a theatre, he saw it as the ideal space to stage The Borrowers: the upper balcony for the humans overhead; the ground-level stage for the little people.

His adaptation celebrates the seriousness of a story that the author says was inspired by the Anne Frank diary. It is, in essence, a story about fear - the fear felt by the "little" people, the fear of the outside, the fear of change. As such, it speaks volumes to the primary child.

Comic and serious by turn, the story has much to say about the relations between children and their parents.

There is excitement too; Rita Winters, a regular designer with Fablevision, is enjoying creating the animals and insects that the family of Pod, Homily and Arriety meet in their adventures.

For once, there is no teacher's pack. Instead, Ms Gardiner hopes schools will follow the sequence of reading the book, taking the company workshop in school, and then going to the show. After term ends, the production runs for two more weeks for the general public.

Far more typical of Fablevision's work was last month's Argyll residency, involving school children and local arts groups, which explored the ancient history of the Kilmartin area, in particular the coming of the Gaels.

For the first time in 12 years of outdoor performance, Fablevision was rained off on the first night, and somewhat inconvenienced on the second. "The rain was biblical," Ms Gardiner recalls. "The torchlight procession became the 'smoking-sticks procession', and the fiddles and flutes were literally drowned out."

The local performers merely shrugged their wet shoulders and got on with the pleasurable business of beating seven bells out of one another in the sword fights. "Everyone enjoys a good sword fight," she reflects.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the creation of the states of India and Pakistan and the company is negotiating to mark the event as part of Mayfest.

In school, Fablevision is more likely to be an "issue company". Its excellent drug awareness performance, I Don't Want to Be Like That, has already toured twice, and is always on the company's stocks.

Ms Gardiner is particularly proud of the teacher's pack - "the best we've ever done". She gives the credit to the four primary teachers and primary adviser who helped to create it.

Now she would enjoy developing a programme on sexuality and gender issues for schools but, in this changeover period, the funding has dried up. So instead there is The Borrowers.

The Borrowers: Cottier Theatre, Glasgow, November 27-December 13, 10.15am and 1pm; December 14-January 4, 7pm; December 23-January 4, 2.30pm. School group bookings on 0141 357 3868

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