Sex, blackmail and swearing kids take centre stage at Edinburgh

5th August 2011 at 01:00

Working with disaffected, often violent pupils has proved unexpectedly useful preparation for life at the Edinburgh Festival, Ian Winterton insists.

"I've never swung a punch in my life," he said. "But I can keep my head calm, sort situations out. That's come in useful in Edinburgh - in the bar, at 6am - once or twice, I must say."

Mr Winterton works with looked-after children at a school in south Manchester. And he is the author of Sherica, a play being premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is one of a number of school-based dramas, shows and comedies in this year's line-up.

Sherica tells the story of a special needs co-ordinator who visits a prostitute. The woman turns out to be the carer of one of his pupils, leaving him at risk of blackmail.

"It's got kids swearing," Mr Winterton said. "It's got under-age sex. People who haven't stepped into a school for ages are going to come out saying: 'God, is that what teachers are up to? Is that normal?'"

Similar reactions are likely to greet First Light. Set in a boarding school, the play explores the aftermath of an encounter between a teenage girl and a male teacher. The audience hears the different versions of events that each participant tells.

Joanna Hole, who plays a housemistress with an agenda of her own, spoke to several teachers in preparation for her role. "They were aware of the rules and protections in place for them and the pupils," Ms Hole said. "But they were also aware that there are lots of reasons why pupils and teachers might lie."

By contrast, Parents' Evening takes a comic look at school stereotypes. There is, for example, the grandfather who insists that everything was worse when he was a child: "In my day, boys weren't given any milk until they were 15. So they were a lot shorter than the girls."

Kieran Hodgson, one of the authors, has worked as a private tutor. "I've encountered people who are very happy to throw enormous amounts of money at their children's education, but don't know anything about what they're learning, or what their ability is," he said.

Sarah Haggar Batten, an English and drama teacher at Milford Haven School in Pembrokeshire, has a rather different focus. She has worked with 22 pupils - more than half of whom are dyslexic - to create a new version of Macbeth.

First performed at the Shakespeare Schools Festival, the new Macbeth retains the original dialogue, but reworks its delivery for a modern audience. So when Macbeth and his wife argue, for example, they speak over each other, as arguing pupils might.

"I hope that, when young people see the quickened version, they'll want to go back and look at the original text," said Ms Haggar Batten. "Our cast are going to Edinburgh to showcase their production, but they're also going to showcase literacy, and how their own literacy has been improved. I feel we're on a literacy crusade, really."

www.edfringe.com

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