Such stuff as dreams are made on

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Glasgow's festival of the English Bard is a little off the beaten track, writes Brian Hayward

There are festivals for tourists, festivals for civic pride and festivals in homage, so hats off to the Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama for Shakespeare in the City, a festival that wants nothing more (or less) than to tell young people in Glasgow about the Bard and use his writings to investigate contemporary issues.

At the source of the June festival is the long-standing link between the RSAMD and the Royal Shakespeare Company, but this year - the festival's third - the energy flows in both directions.

An RSC team came to Glasgow earlier this year to conduct workshops and a professional development session for drama teachers, this time from St Aidan's school, Whitehill Secondary and Eastbank Academy in Glasgow, Craigie High in Dundee and Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire.

The RSAMD, as one of the five top drama schools in the UK, has been commissioned by the RSC - which is hosting a year-long programme of the Bard's complete works - to take its festival performance of All's Well That Ends Well first to the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and then on a tour of Warwickshire schools.

The production raised the curtain on the three weeks of Shakespeariana at the Arches Theatre and it was followed this week by The Tempest. Both were performed by RSAMD second year students on the BA acting course.

Seeking the contemporary issue - in this case, multiculturalism - The Tempest's directors invited Ranjana Thapalyal, a research lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art, to imbue their interpretation with Hindu philosophy and the style of classical Indian theatre.

Even further from the beaten path will be Oh! What a Shame! from the Contemporary Theatre Practice students next week. Their non-linear approach to performance is being invited to run rings round the blameworthy characters and events of Measure for Measure, with an end-product recommended only for senior secondary students.

The first two productions were offered to schools after their runs at the Arches, with a morning workshop to prepare the audience for the afternoon performance. Perhaps the last weeks of the school year is bad timing, because only the High School of Glasgow is taking All's Well and Hyndland Secondary and St Paul's High The Tempest.

More generally welcome is the poster offered to every English and drama teacher. It features 50 tried and trusted devices, from some of the most celebrated teachers of theatre and voice, to encourage pupils to use their voices, bodies and minds to explore Shakespeare's verse and characters.

Liam Sinclair, the head of the RSAMD YouthWorks Drama, this year devised the micro Shakespeare productions that every night entertain playgoers arriving at the Arches. More than 40 young people, most of them from YouthWorks Drama with others from Ashcraig School, the Scottish Youth Theatre and the Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, prepared for these with six weeks' study of key characters and themes from the Bard's plays.

Working under the headings of "wronged women", "fool", "power hungry" and "mystical powers", their task is to blur a Shakespearean character with a contemporary celebrity.

Also new this year is window theatre, after the offer of a vacant unit in the St Enoch shopping centre. On the final Saturday morning of the festival, June 24, shoppers can watch more Shakespeare-inspired performances by YouthWorks Drama students.

There is no doubting the RSAMD's commitment to all this work. The technical and production students are at work on the Arches stage, and the digital film and television students have been capturing the acting students in scenes from All's Well and The Tempest in contemporary settings and locations around Glasgow. However, their films, which are being screened throughout the festival at the Arches, may not be for the purist.

Maggie Kinloch, the head of the school of drama, is very keen to develop and extend the festival through partnerships. As an example, the Citizens Theatre Society yesterday held Shakespeare at the Citz, when four schools competed for a CTS award with their 15 minutes of Shakespeare. She especially invites educationists to join in, so the door is wide open for teachers.

Shakespeare in the City runs until June 24. Tickets, tel 0141 332 YouthWorks Drama, tel 0141 270 8213

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