Story-telling in black and white

1st March 1996 at 00:00
Playwright Athol Fugard revealed his secrets during an open day for schools at the Royal Court theatre. Heather Neill sat in. Forty years after Osborne's Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court changed the course of British theatre, the venue is enjoying another memorable period.

The building is being refurbished, with the aid of lottery money, new productions have won awards and a season of "classic" revivals is underway in the West End. The Education department, spreading far beyond London, is part of this success. Its new season kicked off in February with "A Day with Athol Fugard" for A level and BTec students.

The respected South African playwright, who has been associated with the Court for more than 20 years and whose play, Valley Song, is packing them in there, addressed participants informally from the stage. The tone was conversational, the information straight from experience. Fugard's first advice - to write about what you know, to have confidence that your story is worthy of attention - was unexceptional, but Fugard's account of his own artistic beginnings in a racially-divided South Africa made it riveting.

The theatre was packed, so there was little opportunity for practical work. But when Fugard invited Esmeralda Bihl, his co-star in Valley Song, on stage, the two provided useful insights into preparing and developing their roles. A matinee, followed by discussion, completed the day.

Valley Song is a two-hander about the desperate need of a young girl to escape her safe, traditional background and make her way in the world. It is an attractive subject for young audiences. However, the most moving part of the education day came when Fugard read from another play, My Children! My Africa! In it, a black teacher persuades his most promising pupil that education, not violence, is the best way to combat injustice. There was spontaneous applause, all the more telling as it came only days after the Canary Wharf bomb.

The next education event will be a practical Inset day about Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should on March 9 at the Holborn Centre. Details: 0171 404 6964

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