Final curtain

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Not too many years ago, an undoubted grandee of Scottish student drama bade farewell to his college by making a surprise appearance in the end-of-term production of The Tempest, coming on in the closing scenes to pronounce the stuff about drowning his book and breaking his staff, the latter completely without irony.

Last week Edward ("Ted") Argent ended his long, distinguished reign at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama with a production of A Midsommer Night's Dreame and I half hoped he would come on at the end, as the Master of the Revels, or the Epilogue. But no such trifling. Eight students, doubling and trebling as Court, mechanicals and fairies, are directed in the rarely-performed First Folio text. And as if this wasn't enough, much of the text is set to music. If you wanted one production to sum up the versatility of the training at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, this could have been it.

Take Kirsten Campbell, for example. As Helena, she has her "straight", classical acting in the court. In the woods, deserted by her man, she makes an absolute belter of her ballad, the audience breaking in with applause too early, before her big finish.

In the amorous confusions, her skills at unarmed combat are only a part of a comic repertoire that shows fine timing, and an intelligent inventiveness. In the broader strokes of Snug the Joiner, she is an enterprising Irish odd-job man.

This kind of commitment, over the widest range, has always been Ted Argent's demand of his students, and it shows in the work they get when they leave. He is one of those lucky men of the theatre who can say, "If you want to see my memorial, look around you."

Visible Fictions Theatre Company are exciting interest, not to say controversy, with their tour of Pinocchio. For generations reared on the Disney story, Stephen Greenhorn's stage version of Carlo Collodi's bizarre fable comes as something of a culture shock.

The casual cruelty of Pinocchio's education, which begins by having his feet burned off and ends, a half-dozen nightmarish traumas later, by seeing his father drown, belongs to the 19th-century school of "improving" children's literature, that hoped to terrify the young, like Pinocchio, into being "obedient, hard-working and respectable".

Guy Hollands finds just the right cartoon style of production to usher us through these fantastic adventure, and he is greatly helped by Ashley Collishaw's unnatural, zombie-like Pinocchio. No child, but a stiff-legged, hunch-backed yobbo, until he learns, not good behaviour but servile obedience.

It is an extraordinary work, disconcerting in the sensationalism of event, and intriguing in its moral ambiguity. Not a barrel of laughs, it has to be said, but starting points for class discussion don't come much more pointed than this.

Pinocchio is at Fraserburgh on June 17, and Dundee, June 19-22.

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