There's nothing like a musical;Arts

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
As an actor, Forbes Masson has been camping it up for most of his career, from the early days of Victor and Barry to the more recent television airport cabin crew sitcom, The High Life. But he has also been enjoying success as a writer, not least with his updated versions of pantomimes.

Last week saw the opening of Stiff!, a musical by Masson, at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh. Commissioned by The Tron, it was premiered in 1996, then disappeared from view until the production company Diva won a pound;100,000 lottery grant last April, to be spent within the 12 months, and decided to resurrect it.

Nothing succeeds like a deadline - an appropriate word in the case of Stiff! The title points firmly to a show that Forbes Masson describes as all "sex, death and silly songs".

Sex and death are inescapable in the Faust-derived story of a monumental mason who makes a pact with the devil (called Neville). The "silly songs" are what the author calls "ironic homage" to the popular music of the 20th century. In this he follows Andrew Lloyd Webber's recipe in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Not that Dreamcoat is to be put in the same basket as Stiff!. Masson admits to being mortified when he heard that the young family of one of the company members were singing some of his lyrics. "Stiff! isn't for kids, it's PG," he pleads. And, indeed, the musical does sound like the sort of show only Morris Simpson would want to take S3 to.

Why, then, am I writing about it in TES Scotland? The reason is that the pound;100,000 lottery grant for the show comes from the New Directions initiative, which supports new work in the arts, with the condition that an education programme is included. So, alongside the Lyceum production of Stiff!, Diva provides a teaching programme and offers the opportunity for similar events when the show tours to Stirling, Dundee and Glasgow.

Julie Austin, chairwoman of Diva and drama lecturer at Strathclyde University, and Steven Small, the Lyceum's education leader, have produced the programme and information pack, which includes a cassette of songs from the show and conversations with the writer, director and production team.

The education programme began at the end of March with a day in the Lyceum for the theatre's Act On It! group of 14 to 18-year-olds who, with the co operation of Masson and director Caroline Hall, learned "how to create a musical in a day". Using the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, they wrote their own words and songs.

The schools programme for Edinburgh runs over the next three weeks, with Thursday afternoon teach-ins in the theatre from 4.30-6.30pm. Second year drama students at Queen Margaret College will have an afternoon workshop on "Acting in a musical".

Link-ups with youth theatres in Stirling and Glasgow are being arranged, but the company would still like to hear from schools in the Stirling, Dundee and Glasgow areas, where tour director Gerry Ramage will lead workshops for school parties and teachers can buy theinformation pack.

Stiff! tours MacRobert, May 11-15, Dundee Rep, May 18-29, King's Glasgow, June 1-5. Diva Education, tel: 0131 248 4816.

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