The road to Bannock Burn

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Robert the Bruce. Hopscotch Theatre Company, touring until November 28.

If you know Hopscotch Theatre Company, then all you need to know is that they are touring Robert the Bruce, and the rest you can make up for yourself. In fact the only surprise is that, in 27 shows, Hopscotch hasn't knocked this one off before. "We were saving it up," they explain. Presumably so they could advertise it, as they do, with the slogan: "Better than Braveheart and with real Scottish accents!" Otherwise, happily, it is very much a case of business as usual, with another chapter of Scottish history delivered as an animated cartoon, except that "animated" doesn't quite do justice to the manic pace and mood swings of Ross Stenhouse's scripts.

As ever, he includes just about everything a well-informed child should know, starting here with a prologue on the accidental death of Alexander III and the ill-fated voyage from Norway, and ending with the story that, after the battle, you could cross the valley of the Bannock Burn on the bodies of men and horses.

Every event gets its style, every character his image. And never far away is the subversive joke, the delight in the anachronism. Like the moment when the diffident Bruce first meets the bellicose, sword-waving Wallace. "Ah'm Wallace," roars the newcomer. Bruce is puzzled: "Whaur's your pal Gromit?" "Not that Wallace!" Some say this teaches irreverence for political leaders, which otherwise might take the children years to learn.

It is the ancient and traditional art of vaudeville (and where else can you see that nowadays?) but the knockabout style goes a long way to concealing the artfulness of the design. This is informative entertainment from a company who are experts in the business, so the school audience is frequently exercised in sharing in the story, singly and collectively: they can offer themselves as contenders for the crown; they persuade Bruce and Wallace to join forces; they can refuse to give marauding English soldiers their sweets.

The whole Mosshead Primary - children, teachers and jannie - enjoyed the performance. This, and a marathon two shows every school day on a three-month tour between Dingwall and Dumfries, is a measure of their popularity, but I wish this popularity reached as far as the public funding bodies. Glasgow City Council has helped, but the extraordinary fact is that elsewhere in the country their work is made possible only by private charities.

Brian Hayward. Hopscotch Theatre Company, telfax: 0141 440 2025

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