Theatre that brings history alive

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Hopscotch theatre's new production of David Livingstone and the African King, which runs for the whole of the spring term, and includes for the first time a week in Aberdeen, is a 50-minute barrage of story, jokes, songs and slapstick with historical facts like seeds in grapes.

Hopscotch shows are carefully-researched histories delivered by vaudevillians, which is why they appeal to all primary school pupils and, judging by the response at Westerton Primary in Bearsden, to the staff as well. Those of us sitting on chairs might come away remembering from this side-view of slavery that 1,000 Gaels captured at Culloden were sold in the West Indies; those who sat on the floor in the front row may only remember the way the man in the lion costume chased everyone.

The truth is, David Livingstone is an unfashionable role model for your average schoolchild, and a tricky subject for the humorist.

Studying Latin grammar while working in the mill, driven by his Methodist convictions to improve the lot of the native in the Empire, and the first European explorer to see the Victoria Falls - none of this makes for the kind of heatre that goes easily in the school hall.

Happily, there are compensations, in the touch of the exotic that David Esamal and Razwan Shafi bring to the African kings, princes and slavers, gaudily dressed by Rita Winters; and in the clever, Brechtian casting of Jane Dunbar as Livingstone, a cheerful, tomboy performance that evades the darker tones of the driven missionary-explorer and lets the audience imagine their own man. And then of course there is Grant Smeaton. Usually he directs, as here, but unusually he also joins the cast as an actor, an activity he normally reserves for other, more serious stages. He deals himself an engaging hand of characters. Some, like the Portuguese gun-runner and slaver, are quick caricatures. Some, like his African witch doctor and his portrayal of Livingstone's bride Mary Moffat, are pure pantomime. And others are accurate vignettes, like the Boer farmer moving his "kettle" into African homelands, and the bumptious New York Herald journalist Stanley, entering with pith helmet and outstretched hand to say the inevitable "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" Hopscotch, tel: 0141 440 2025

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