Epic travels of saint and actors

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Regardless of the ups and downs of Scottish Arts Council funding, the Glasgow-based Hopscotch Theatre Company marches on. Long ago it gave up asking for grants and is buoyed up instead by the enthusiasm of primary school audiences.

Now, in its 15th year, the company is notching up its 50th production with The Story of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland.

There is hardly need to describe the Hopscotch style. It is hard-centred chocolate: fun-packed vaudeville scrupulous with historical fact and legend. And under the sugar coating of the dressing-up and slapstick are humanitarian values not always evident in theatre of more pretension.

Militarism, for example, never gets a good press. Michael Canmore, the 11th-century Scots king (played by Bryan Menzies), is introduced as the "slayer of Vikings, Normans, Saxons, dogs, cats, rabbits, budgerigars I" and more, if he cannot silence the herald.

Hopscotch's success owes much to the way it targets its audience and its ability to play to a whole school at one sitting. This show is offered as suitable for P2-P7, but even at Campsie View in Lenzie, an East Dunbartonshire special school offering a pre-school curriculum, the rumbustious spectacle stimulated appreciably high levels of attention and interest. Headteacher Carole Bowie could point to children encouraged to concentrate almost beyond their physical strength.

Incidentally, the old claim that Hopscotch is suitable for the whole school, the teachers and the janitor is apparently now formalised with an impromptu role for the janitor; a drag role, of course, in a bridal veil.

The cast look comfortable around the central figure of Karen Docherty, who is staying with the company after playing in its William Wallace. She looks saintly enough in the part, does a good Swedish and Hungarian accent as the occasions demand and leads the action songs in a strong and pleasing contralto.

Campsie View assimilated the production as part of its religious and moral education programme, in which St Margaret always figures. Other schools have other reasons to book it. The tour began in primary schools that bear her name in South Queensferry (also named after her) and Dunfermline (where she was married and founded her first church). Four more St Margaret's schools come later in the tour which, thanks to funds from the Fraser and Robertson trusts, this time includes Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute.

Ross Stenhouse, who has written more than 30 Hopscotch shows including this one, explains that the tours, which can run for as long as 16 weeks and as many as 160 performances, are limited only by actor fatigue. The Story of St Margaret is touring for 14 weeks until early May. Two hectic shows a day, plus travelling and carrying around the set twice a day is a recipe for stress. I suspect the saintly Margaret's travels from Hungary to England and then Scotland will seem less epic to the cast when they finally lay down their swords and crowns.

Hopscotch, tel 0141 440 2025

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