It's all in the mime

26th May 2000 at 01:00
MY TURN. First Bite theatre company. touring North Lanarkshire, Lothians and Fife

All the good theatre in education companies have a trademark style, a way of doing things that grows out of their particular credo. With First Bite, it has always been the physicality of the actors, who you could believe were chosen and directed principally for their attention-gripping gymnastic skill. In the company's primary school tour of My Turn, director Jane McGinnes keeps faith with that style but makes it more theatrical.

A brief prologue made up of natural, expressive and gymnastic movement and scraps of dialogue opens the performance. At Cowie Primary by Stirling on the first day of the tour, the audience of P4-P7 were captured within seconds by the swiftness and surprise of this beginning.

At the end of the play, the two actors repeat the same movement sequence, this time adding more of the play's dialogue as a kind of reinforcement for the children.

Between these two covers, McGinnes presents a drama of extraordinary pace. The scenes of playground bullying, family quarrels, web surfing and the rest flick by as though on fast-forward. For much of the action, it seemed that the scenes lasted no longer than a television advert, with maybe fewer words. With great style, the two actors flip between rols and places and the audience are thoroughly attuned to every word and gesture.

Lucinda Bailey and Dave Chaplin are the two actors, and they begin by telling the audience the roles they will be playing, and the locations of the story. The audience don't need to be told - the playing is brilliantly lucid - but it establishes that the performers can speak directly to the spectators, as they do at three points in the play, asking them to react to, comment on or interpret the events.

It helps with the style, too, because First Bite performs the play with the aid of only three chairs and a floormat, using mime and mouth noises where other people use props, costume and scenery.

The art of mime is central to what First Bite does. Bailey frequently seems to take a lively dog for a walk. It has a habit of darting into the audience and the children moved to avoid it. With this kind of skill at evoking a physical world around them, the action can comfortably switch from school to library to bedroom and the audience can enjoy a happy ending, watching the two friends on the swings in the park.

Unusually, at the end the actors fielded questions from the audience. Perhaps the most flattering question was from the girl who asked if they would do it all again.

First Bite, tel 0131 225 7993

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