Three times spellbound

31st August 2001 at 01:00
MERLIN - The Wild Boy. Scottish Youth Theatre. at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow August 1-4.

THE BOY FRIEND. Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow. July 30-August 4.

ANOTHER SPACE. Borderline Theatre, Ayr. July 26-28.

For young actors, the summer break is less a holiday than a theatrical workshop, reports Brian Hayward

The school year is being redesigned and most likely for the chop is the long summer holiday. So, before the new term swamps all memory of summer, take a moment to consider the value of six weeks out of school, not for the teacher but for the pupil.

"We had to delay the family holiday for this!" complains many a smiling parent to arts workers.

For a surprising number of youngsters, the end of term is the cue to rush from classroom to rehearsal room. Nowadays, July is a crucial month for the companies that complement the schools in arts education. (It's a role that many in the arts world would like to see extended.) The biggest player in this is the Scottish Youth Theatre, whose two-week Foundation courses in Stirling, Aberdeen and Glasgow involved hundreds of young people this year. Glasgow also staged two lavish productions and a "work-in-progress".

The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was home to SYT's Merlin - The Wild Boy, a play specially written for youth theatre with unlimited roles for the female acolytes of the witch Morghan, played with malevolent power by the brooding Deborah Whyte. Credit, too, to Joe Howe who brought a wild innocence to Merlin, and to the anguished Henrietta Macrae as Gwen'far.

But this was a collective effort and on an earth floor, under forest greenery and in a Celtic twilight, the company of 30 danced, sang, fought and kissed with complete assurance.

In central Glasgow, at the Citizens' Theatre, the SYT again showed its versatility with a delightful production of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, treading the knife-edge of danger with some aplomb. There was no programme credit for a voice coach, but the company mimicked the 1920s dialect to perfection. Though the girls seemed to enjoy the songs and costumes the most, the boys were gallant in every sense, especially in their bathing costumes. Choreographer Lis Mackie made the whole company into dancers and director George Dewar coaxed or restrained satisfying performances from every one, notably Lindsay Moffat and her version of "Nicer that Nice".

Borderline Theatre made good use of the holiday by bringing together its Troon, Maybole and Girvan youth theatres for a July production at its Ayr headquarters. Work started in January, when writer Christopher Deans visited the three groups to explore possible themes and characters for a play about a chatroom.

Another Space is the computer screen where young people concerned with, and sometimes confused about, their changing identities in adolescence, can define who and what they want to be without the trappings of their looks, homes or disabilities.

It is a sophisticated script, unafraid in its theatrical metaphor, and the laconic dialogue is loaded with implication.

Director Lisa McIntosh created a fast-moving production that exercised the young cast to the utmost. All 27, large and small, had speaking parts to match, and seemed to vie with one another in the speed with which they took their cues and spoke their lines. The ensemble movement was precise and effective, especially in the moments when the company played the invisible, unspeaking listeners of the chatroom. Much was owed to music director Raymond Harris, who soothed us with soft keyboard jazz before curtain up and thereafter improvised a sympathetic soundtrack, tumultuous or elegiac, with synthesiser or guitar.

Scottish Youth Theatre, tel 0141 221 5127Borderline Theatre, tel 01292 281010

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