School's back, let the theatre season begin

10th September 2004 at 01:00
When the school gates opened again in August, few could enter more eagerly than theatre groups who spent the summer preparing their programmes.

First through the door was the TAG Theatre Company, starting the first of its 16 eight-week residencies in primary schools. No company plans more expansively than TAG, which follows Making the Nation, its four-year political education programme for post-devolution Scotland, with Global Citizens for P5-P7 children, conducted in association with UNICEF.

In October, Tag begins its month-long tour of King Lear, targeted at P6-P7 pupils.

Visible Fictions theatre company is committed to new writing and starts new playwrights by persuading writers who have not written for young people to watch a team of actors and director improvising with children, note their concerns and record their vernacular. This time, director Douglas Irvine has worked closely with writer Donald Mcleary in the making of Into the Dark, a drama aimed very much towards the teenage group it features.

A gang hangs around in unlit areas and encounters an elderly lady of speculative reputation who is widely believed to be dead. Words such thrilling, terrifying and breathless excitement are sprinkled over the special website Visible Fictions has created for the show (which also gives curriculum guides for teachers).

The month-long, nationwide tour - unusually for this company, in major theatres - starts in the Edinburgh on September 23.

Andy Cannon, a force for good in the Wee Stories Theatre for Children company, seems set to succeed John Cairney as the reincarnation of Burns for our time. His Tae a Mouse and A' That at the Museum of Scotland has been opening up the life and poetry of the bard for 8-to 12-year-olds, and has now flowered into an hour-long retelling of Tam o' Shanter for P2 pupils upwards. Wendy Weatherby provides the music. They open at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews on October 2.

Scottish Opera For All, the most senior of the world's opera education companies, having been taking opera to schools for more than 30 years, is on a new quest this autumn, not for a magic ring or the Minotaur but for the benefits of medical science. It is taking a review of the fundamental mechanics of the human body and the difference between viruses and bacteria to primary schools.

There is a story as well, of course. By calling the show Fever!, the company points not only at the mystery infection that lands a small boy in hospital but at the way the media feed on the frenzy of public and professional anxiety.

The opera tour goes on throughout the school year in the well-practised SOFA manner. Two months before the visit, the school receives the teacher's support pack and vocals CD; two weeks before the visit a SOFA music specialist polishes the chorus singing, ready for the opera singers, drama specialist and costumiers on the morning of the rehearsal. The day always ends with a production of the opera (this year commissioned from Alan Penman and Allan Dunn), usually before an audience of agreeably surprised teachers and parents.

The Catherine Wheels Theatre Company is not starting this session with a new show. Director Gill Robertson is happy for her work to be seen by the largest possible audience, so The Story of the Little Gentleman stays on the road, starting this school year at the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh on September 18.

Catherine Wheels Theatre, www.catherine wheels.co.uk SOFA, www.scottishopera.org.ukTAG Theatre Co, www.tag-theatre.co.uk Visible Fictions, www.visible fictions.co.ukdark Wee Stories Theatre, www.weestoriestheatre.org

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