Invitation to a new generation of players

7th February 1997 at 00:00
A few years ago cinemas carried advertisements showing how tiny and insignificant films seemed on television. Even more are plays distorted when seen only on a school video. Yes, the time, trouble, form-filling, even the cost can be worthwhile when it means meeting the set-book, the famous classic, the totally new dramatic adventure face to face in the flesh (and Flesh just happens to be one show on tour this spring).

Then again, see Theatre Alibi use a couple of actors and a wire head to create a stunningly imaginative horse and you see something simple which stimulates imaginations beyond the ability of the biggest budget special effects. And done simply, it can spark practical ideas for students' future class work in drama, English or technology.

There's the sense of sheer adventure which theatres provide. Who, just reading Hamlet or even seeing most videos, would conceive the effect of Manchester Library Theatre's recent Edwardian production, mad Ophelia's music-hall tunes replaying insistently under her brother's pursuit of revenge for her death? It's not the sort of idea that should be on a standard video, but it makes for thought-provoking production. Good theatres round the country build their specialisms. Anyone who thinks musicals equal animal make-up or roller-skates could have done well to see Leicester's sharp-edged revival of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, powerfully dramatic as well as physically exhilarating.

The idea that London is Best is so ingrained it's easy to miss the very peculiar excellencies in our regional midsts. The point about Northern Stage in Newcastle or Alibi and Cornwall's Kneehigh Theatre touring the south-west of England is not that they are "better" than major London theatres but that they have a flavour all their own, strong and individual.

A lot are under threat from funding cuts, including enterprising Harrogate Theatre, whose director Andrew Manley has stimulated and irritated many teachers with his unconventional Shakespeares. It's touring theatre in education outfit is facing the axe too. Perhaps the funders should holiday in Wiltshire and see the new, glitzy, self-confident Salisbury Playhouse whose director Jonathan Church, barely 30, has received a Chamber of Commerce award for the theatre's contribution to city life.

And as nursery vouchers spread nationwide, it's a good time for early years teachers to look at the growth of work for the three to six range - there's an example at Lancaster and several on tour (see Young People's Theatre). Running about 45 minutes, shows by specialist companies like Quicksilver, Norwich Puppet Theatre or Banyan are gentle, using sympathetic performers, puppets and objects in imaginatively stimulating ways. What is more, such companies are experienced at working with audiences who as yet may not even know what a theatre is.

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