The Hopscotch treatment;Arts;Theatre

12th March 1999 at 00:00
The Stuarts. Hopscotch Theatre Company. Touring until April.

Week three of the tour and someone broke into Hopscotch Theatre Company's van. The thief tried, and failed, to wrench the radio out of the dashboard. Frustrated, he rifled through the jumble at the back, but found only King James I's tennis racket, bags of 12th-century gold, the cannon that killed James II and Henry VIII's doublet and hose. These he left. For which the 70 schools from Stranraer to Inverness, waiting for their performance of The Stuarts, can be grateful.

As always with Hopscotch, you get what it says on the label. So its story of what it suggests is "the unluckiest family in Scottish history" follows the Stuart bloodline for 600 years, from the time David I recruited Walter Fitzallan as a feudal landlord to the days of the '45. As always, the Hopscotch treatment of history is its own; the facts are sacrosanct but the presentation free-wheeling up to and beyond the point of irreverence. Most amazing of all, the history comes value-free. Well, almost. Robert the Bruce, hero of Bannockburn, gets three cheers for his walk-on part.

Apart from that, the text looks on success and failure with an equal eye, the comic muse always perched on the shoulders of the historical-tragical. Flodden is explained and despatched with the epitaph that it was the worst defeat in Scottish history, except for the World Cup of 1978. James II, seeking the bubble reputation, even in the cannon's mouth, delivers his own epitaph: "I've been fired!" Those who like this sort of thing, and thousands do, will await with interest the results of the commission for writer Ross Stenhouse from Scottish Opera for All.

Not that The Stuarts doesn't come with its own cheerful little songs, amid the scenic delights of the pirates' capture of the infant prince on the high seas, the murderers of James I battering at the castle door and, of course, the cannonading. Grant Smeaton has directed so many of these school hall epics now that a monk flying from a castle tower, a sea-battle and an escape through a trapdoor are all in a day's work. He is equally impressive in simple but telling theatrical effects, like the use of bell and drum in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

All done in the round, in the broad daylight of Hutchesons' Grammar school hall in Glasgow, before the attentive eyes of P4 and P5, consolidating their study of Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots. In its encounters with Scotland's under-12s - and Hopscotch sees tens of thousands of them - the actors have to be prepared for anything. When Walter Fitzallan leaps into the acting area, flings his arms out and roars "Hello, everybody!", the pupils smile politely back.

All this and much more is in the day's work for a cast of four doing 10 shows a week for 10 weeks, every morning putting up the set and getting into costume for the 9.30 start, acting, singing and playing their share of half a hundred roles, packing up the set, getting back in the van and doing the same thing somewhere else in the afternoon, all the time abounding with cheerfulness and industry.

Brian Hayward

Hopscotch, tel: 0141 440 2025

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