Curtain is lifted on suicidal problems

5th October 2001 at 01:00
If I Die B4 U Wake. Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh until October 13. tel 0131 225 7942

Children's Theatre Comes of Age was the way the Scottish Arts Council last week announced its awards for the coming year, but the truth is that the leading companies have not waited for the money. The best of children's theatre engages its audience to the extremes of their intelligence and feeling and in recent months Scottish theatre for young people has done that with more confidence and skill than at any time in the past 30 years.

Following Raindog Young Blood's UN crusade on children's rights and the launch of TAG theatre's tour of its Holocaust play Dr Korczak's Example, Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh uses its partnership with the city council's education department to create a powerful investigation of teenage suicide in the 90-minute docu-drama If I Die B4 U Wake.

Designer Alison Irwin has transformed the interior of the Hamilton Place theatre by removing seats to install a skateboard ramp on which a lonely, obsessed skateboarder rolls back and forth like a pendulum, ticking away the sad lives of the play's unfortunates.

The project has been done in collaboration with caring agencies whose work impinges on suicide, and writer Anu Kumar has produced case histories that, at a show for social workers, won approval.

We encounter a depressed girl incapable of getting out of bed, a boy crushed by the pressures of school and expectations of home, a girl betrayed to truancy, sex, alcohol and drugs by the hostility between her parents, and a girl who realises she is gay and unwisely confides in her friend. None of the adults come out of the piece well; teachers are shown as indifferent, untrained and over-worked, though the parents are worse.

With S1-S3 audiences in mind, deviser and director Robert Rae gives the performances a hard, unremitting edge, dressed with contemporary dancing and music.

Theatre Workshop reports that reaction from school parties and their teachers has been positive but the lasting value lies in the way the performance brings into the open what might otherwise remain festering thoughts. The teacher's pack contains about 20 leaflets from groups that help to cope with personal problems (self-harm, young people under pressure, young gayslesbians and so on), ensuring that any pupil can be directed to professional help.

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