Rites of passage in a world of change

29th September 1995 at 01:00
Making Scenes 1, Age range: 10 plus"School Journey to the Centre of the Earth" By Daisy and Ken Campbell; "Faith, Hope and Charity" By Christopher Hampton after Odon von Horvath; "Stone Moon" By Judith Johnson; "The Forest of Mirrors" By Gregory Motton. 0 413 69840 8

Making Scenes 2, "A Bucket of Eels" By Paul Godfrey; "The Wild at Heart Club" By Jenny McLeod; "The Minotaur" By Jan Maloney; "The Bedbug" By Snoo Wilson after Vladimir Mayakovsky. 0 413 69850 5

Making Scenes 3, "Indian Summer" By Harwant Bains; "Almost Grown" By Richard Cameron; "The Ice Palace" By Lucinda Coxon adapted from Tarjei Vesass; "The Dark Tower" By Louis MacNeice. 0 413 69860 2. Methuen Drama in association with the Royal National Theatre, Pounds 9.99 each

David Hornbrook welcomes the National Theatre's playscripts for young actors. The three volumes of Making Scenes comprise the 12 plays commissioned by the Royal National Theatre for the 1995 BT National Connections festival for young actors. They form an excitingly eclectic collection of high quality writing, ranging across culture, time and age group, and well deserving of a place on the shelves of secondary school drama departments and upper primary classrooms. No play is much more than an hour long in performance and each is accompanied by concise, down-to-earth production notes and an interview with its author.

If there are themes which characterise the collection, they are those of childhood friendship, young love and rites of passage. My favourites are School Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a sparkingly funny primary coach-trip romp originally written by Ken Campbell's daughter Daisy at the ripe old age of nine, and Lucinda Coxon's The Ice Palace. Set in a remote village in winter, the latter is intensely visual in its imagery and staging and has all the romantic optimism of late Shakespeare. Although Stone Moon is similarly timeless and rural, an over-stated message somewhat blunts the play's otherwise powerful humanity.

Faith, Hope and Charity has been adapted by Christopher Hampton from Horv th's darkly ironic 1933 original. Profoundly evocative of Horv th's own troubled times rehearsals for the first production were stopped by the Nazis the play's exposure of the tyranny of petty bureaucrats reminded me of Hasek's Svejk stories. The Bedbug is another adaptation, this time of Mayakovsky. Enhanced by clever use of songs (originally scored by Shostakovich), the play is a hugely funny satire on the utopianism of the 1917 revolution. As today we struggle to make sense of life after communism and fear the irrationalities of the forces which seem to be shaping our world, both these plays have much to say.

MacNeice's, The Dark Tower, another period piece, wears less well, betraying its origins as a 1946 BBC radio script. And, despite its author's call for "the most convincing recreation of a wood possible" for his characters' pre-marital encounters, A Bucket of Eels would also make good radio. Indian Summer takes us back to a small town in 1960s India.

Harwant Bains draws on his own experience to paint a sensitive picture of the identity crisis suffered by a boy born in London to Indian parents when he returns to his roots. In the wonderfully Beckett-like opening to The Forest of Mirrors, a man living alone knocks furiously at his own door before giving up in frustration and letting himself in. Gregory Motton's splendidly eccentric fairy story fully lives up to the promise of this beginning.

The verse style chosen by Jan Maloney for The Minotaur is less successful, the blend of the heightened and the colloquial "Oh it's you, heir to the Athenian throne" lacking the linguistic confidence of Jenny McLeod's violent and sharply observed slice of gangland life, The Wild at Heart Club. Richard Cameron is not shy of violence in Almost Grown, which takes us back and forth in time as a group of young men reflect on their boyhood. Although there is some lovely writing, notably in the monologues, the complex structure is sometimes difficult to follow, both in the text and, I suspect, on the stage.

In commissioning these plays, Suzy Graham-Adriani, director of BT National Connections, has not only animated some genuinely innovative new writing but has significantly raised the benchmark against which playscripts for young people will be judged in future. It is only to be hoped that the continuing support of BT for the festival will make further anthologies of this quality possible.

David Hornbrook is arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden.

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