The role of a stone

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Sandy and the Stone of Destiny Hopscotch Theatre Company touring until April 28

Brian Hayward marvels at the scope and energy of Hopscotch's latest show

If Hopscotch Theatre Company leaves no stone unturned in its comic odyssey through Scottish history and culture, it was only a matter of time before it came across a big one with handles on, lying forgotten in some jaggy bushes where a bully had thrown Sandy's football. When Sandy hoicks the Stone out - the relic is very portable, as its history amply demonstrates - he finds it comes with a ghostly guardian, the formidable Angus Og MacDonald (William Rogue), who offers also to be its chronicler.

His story unfolds as Sandy and the Stone of Destiny, written by Raymond Burke and directed by Grant Smeaton, the latest off the Hopscotch production line touring primary schools from the Clyde to the Dee for the better part of three months and around 130 performances.

As is always the way with these scrupulously honest Hopscotch productions, every discernible fact or fiction is told, sung or acted, so the likeable Sandy has to be there when the asteroid hurtles to earth, he stands watch while Jacob uses it as a dream pillow and, when the invading Nebuchadnezzar searches for it, helps smuggle it away to Egypt, where a hapless architect of a Pharaoh wants to use it as a capstone on his pyramid.

Gerry McHugh is the eccentric pyramid-builder, the fourth of his eight roles in the hour-long piece. A veteran now of seven Hopscotch tours, he helps settle the children as they file into the hall, acts and sings his way through the show and then, dressed as "Mr Bruce" (still awaiting his coonation) drives them back to the classrooms with his brandished sword.

He typifies the vigour of these Hopscotch productions. Three of the cast play 17 roles between them, often more than once, and often in elaborate costume. Veronica Rennie's scenery, behind which is the dressing room, prop store and sound effects department, must hide as hectic an entertainment as it presents.

Maybe to keep the cast fresh during these long tours, maybe as extra spice to the schools, Hopscotch customises the text. At Slamannan primary, for example, the "here be dragons" blank on the map "from which no traveller returns" is nearby Falkirk. When the Stone gets to Ireland and is broken into two pieces, the piece they get to keep becomes the Blarney Stone, and kissing it provokes outbursts of extravagant affection addressed to young lady teachers sitting in the hall, whose names the actors somehow know.

Kate Cook who as Princess Tea has attached herself to the Stone from its Old Testament origins, gets some of her best moments as the story reaches modern times, and she can queen it in coronation robes for Westminster, and skivvy in Holyrood.

Though the modern story, which begins with Edward I carrying off another piece of rock altogether and finishes up with Ford Anglias and confused copies, lacks the simple, magical sweep of the first 1,000 years, Hopscotch's advice to the children is surely right - if you find the Stone, leave it where it is; "will not all charms flyAt the mere touch of cold geology?" Hopscotch's next production The Great Scottish Inventors will tour from April 3 until June 30. Bookings can be made on 0141 440 2025

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