Anything that persuades schoolchildren not to tuck their empty Coke cans in my hedge is all right with me, and that would certainly include Hopscotch Theatre on its theatre-in-education (TIE) tour of What a Load of Rubbish!
The self-deprecating play title is typical of this company, which cultivates a "cheap and cheerful" style of theatre which can seem strangely at odds with its factually serious and thorough research.
However odd the mix, Hopscotch has certainly hit the primary school target. Now in its 21st year, the company plays to more than 140,000 children annually. It has its summer show out on the road (until June 19), two more taking bookings for this year, and one for 2010. The Rubbish tour has played to almost 200 schools, and it is company policy, wherever possible, to be seen by the whole school.
Being the primary sector's most popular theatre company is, however, no longer enough. Ross Stenhouse, the artistic director, wants to develop the "education" part of TIE, and Rubbish has seen the team in full educational mode. Gillian Geddes, an Edinburgh-based teacher, developed a resource pack to accompany the play, with useful websites, a CD of the songs, and outlines of apposite teaching skills.
Classroom work before and after the performance is obviously valuable, but crucial is the impact that live theatre has on the child's consciousness. If Hopscotch is good on "impact", it is because over the years a largely unchanged in-house team has honed an effective house style. Here, for example, founder-member Stenhouse, who directs Rubbish, commissioned Raymond Burke, another old hand, as writer.
The result is a script tailored to deliver the goods. At the centre of the story are a brother and sister. They are city children, she the younger, feisty and determined, and with her hair in bunches, he slightly older and totally glaikit. The plot takes them away from the city, to where rubbish is threatening that most revered of totems, their "grannie's hielan' hame".
These "hielans" are mountainous rubbish tips, landfill sites, steadily advancing to engulf the cottage. Of course, the children save the day, grannie's cottage and the planet. In Hopscotch style, it comes across like a Highers syllabus done as comic cuts, starting with untidiness and litter and then romping through the business of waste management, landfill and incineration, recycling, and even the principle of refusing to buy non- recyclable items.
Rude health comes as standard with these TIE actors, who put up and take down the set twice a day, in between whiles bowling through the 60-minute shouting match. Lorna Collins is the one whose energy and empathy with the children largely drive the performance. Liam Lambie is a clever droll, and plays the daft brother with perfect comic timing.
I saw the show in Wester Cleddens Primary in Glasgow. It buys in three theatre visits each year, and Hopscotch is always one. The whole school watched the performance with obvious enjoyment. They sang along with the song, and at the end could shout out the right colour of the wheelie-bin for plastic, paper and tin, but should this kind of work be more targeted for age groups? "Whole school" is an arrangement that suits primaries in many ways, but when, mid-performance, the actors asked for solutions to grannie's problem, one of the older boys shouted out, "recycle". Alas, it was too early in the plot for that.
The Life and Times of Robert Burns, August 26-November 13, suitable for P1-7; duration one hour
Beauty and the Beast, November 12-January 15, suitable for the whole school; duration one hour
T: 0141 440 2025.