'When the hurly burly's done'

24th November 2006 at 00:00
"it ticks all the boxes!" was the jubilant cry of Yvonne Wallace, links officer for Renfrewshire. She was talking about the National Theatre of Scotland's Project Macbeth and its visit to Williamwood High in East Renfrewshire. But her comment reflects the care that every theatre and arts company has to take over the guidelines to smooth their entrance into schools.

Williamwood was a special case, having opened its many glass doors for the first time only last September. A capacious entrance hall leads to a 450-seat theatre (at other times a gymnasium) which will double as the local theatre for Clarkston and Busby. To have its opening public performance by the NTS was the kind of launch Ms Wallace could hardly have hoped for. Her cause was helped by the theatre's practice of using local children and adults.

Invitations also went out to the other six Renfrewshire secondary schools, all of which can now boast a drama department. Of these, Mearns Castle and Woodfarm joined Williamwood as full partners in the project, timetabling classes once or twice a week for six weeks to work with Forward Role Company - sister and brother Gillian and Lawrence Crawford.

On the night, the pupils participated in three segments leading up to the production. First, Mearns Castle's Higher drama students performed the Past Time prologue. This was a dance piece which began in darkness, with a procession of flaming torches approaching the school doors. Inside, they developed the theme that, as generations pass, the same human stories are endlessly repeated. The Scottish dance was accompanied with Shakespearean and Gaelic words, to give a time scale.

In the foyer, before each performance, a Woodfarm S3 class looked to the Future Time. Taking as their cue the chaos of Macbeth's reign, they had made a video installation, doing their own story-boarding, designing and filming. Their view of the future was bleak: a wintry landscape blighted by political leaders who could not be trusted, global terrorism and nuclear war.

For the third segment, an on-stage prologue to the play, 30 S5 and S6 pupils from Williamwood devised and performed their Present Time response to the magical ambience of the tragedy. Their confident and disciplined performance began with an on-stage whispering chorus of broomstick and besom carriers, before the action turned to a bivouac tent on the hall floor where a group of friends were camping on a blasted heath to celebrate a birthday.

When the campers discover they have stumbled on a ley line, a series of unpleasant surprises follow, including encounters with Hallowe'en horror-masked passers-by and a trio of soldiers from some transatlantic boot camp. There was even a role for the modern "magic" of the mobile phone before all was healed by the broom-bearers, with an expiation spoken by the holder of the antlered skull.

In this production, not for the first time a playwright put the "historical" Macbeth in opposition to Shakespeare's villainous hero.

* www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

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