Theatre hit on many levels

14th October 2005 at 01:00
A year before Higher students study it, Brian Hayward catches a play full of social and moral issues, not to mention naked emotion and frank language.

A Taste of Honey. TAG Theatre Company. touring until November 12.

The only thing wrong with the TAG Theatre Company's production of A Taste of Honey is that, for some teachers, it has come a year too early.

Next year the play will be a Higher drama text, displacing Look Back in Anger, and one thinks how little that would have pleased the Daily Mail critic at its premiere, who remarked that "if there is anything worse than an angry young man it's an angry young woman".

Fortunately for educationists, Jo, the schoolgirl heroine of the piece, has plenty to feel angry about. A father she has never known, a neglectful, promiscuous mother and a squalid home in Salford conspire to persuade her to snatch her "taste of honey" by sharing her virginity with a black sailor on a brief shore leave. When her mother leaves to live with a heavy-drinking philanderer, pregnancy and loneliness bring a homeless homosexual to live with her.

This is a box of delights for anyone interested in social and moral education and Emily Ballard, Tag's creative learning director, has been able to link her educational programme to a wider circle of youth, community and other informal educational groups than before. And not just because of the storyline.

Shelagh Delaney, as a 17-year-old, created the play from a novel she was writing and the raw, artless writing, the filmic scenes and lack of significant action make for easy classroom reading. This, in turn, makes it a handy text for colleges to use with students in social studies, and at least two Glasgow colleges have bought into the education programme.

For those others whose interest begins in the theatre, TAG is quick to observe that it has its theatrical interest and while it is full of issues (some might think too full), it is not an issue play.

Drama teachers, particularly in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeenshire, have been quick to respond and are being rewarded with a production by Guy Hollands that respects the purity of the naked emotions that drive the action.

I saw it in the Glasgow Citizens' among what was largely a middle school audience, and the pupils were held every minute by the story and not infrequently shocked and embarrassed by the frankness of the dialogue. Even so, TAG is perfectly right to recommend the play for 12 and over because it touches on important issues for that age group, and the educational programme is tailored accordingly.

New this year is the chance to get the creative team to come to your school, but this will very much depend on their availability. The stock-in-trade are the website with teaching materials and the pre-show workshops in schools, in which Ballard, helped by her two regular drama workers, Caroline Stewart and Jo Timmins, unwraps both the play and its place in theatre history.

For the parties of drama students in Glasgow and Edinburgh there are lecture-demonstrations, a dreary name for the opportunity to come to the theatre before the play to see the director and cast explain how they create character through interpretation, and maybe offer your own ideas.

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