World of work

17th October 1997 at 01:00
WORKSONG, TAG Touring until November 11

James Brining is making his first schools tour for TAG with a production for secondary schools that mixes performance and participation. The event begins with the TAG team persuading the school audience to become a planning group, with the task of converting a derelict industrial site into a leisure park.

"Persuade" is maybe too mild a word - Ross Mackay incites them to pursue excellence with a zeal that makes Tony Blair sound downright diffident. The fringe benefits are good, too, with meal vouchers and expense accounts.

The "planners" go into four teams, led by the actors, and study the convincing maps, plans, models and photographs laid out for them. Discussions are in full swing, and ideas are being noted, when abruptly the bubble bursts.

One of the team has found a fax left in a machine. A "downturn" in the USA means cutbacks in the design firm, the loss of fringe benefits, and maybe more. What is to be done? The TAG team argue first among themselves, and then with their teams. Some decide to do nothing; some agree to ask the management for "clarification".

Meanwhile, the leaders can see that their teams need a little boning up on the history of industrial relations. The conference floor becomes a stage and four actors perform John McGrath's eclectic vignette of 19th century Glasgow, all the way from pastoral idyll to the first Scottish Trades Union Congress conference of 1897.

Just when we are rather enjoying the triumphalism, there is more disturbing news on the "fringe benefits" front. Management are taking a hard line, and those who put their names to the demand for "clarification" are threatened with loss of contract. Should there be a strike? Again the leaders argue, and ask their teams whether strikes work.

Now the quartet take to the floor again, and the Heath and Thatcher miners' strikes are recalled in scenes from the life of a collier, with the confrontation shown with splendid Miner and Thatcher masks. The postscript is the era of the management consultant, the self-employed landscape gardener - and youth unemployment.

Now, almost 90 minutes later, we get good news and bad news: the fax was a mistake, but there will be redundancies. The group have to decide whether to go back to work on the leisure park design, or take action in support of those made redundant. More argument - and there is just time for one proposal from each group for the leisure park.

At Bellarmine Secondary in Glasgow it was noticeable that at the beginning the leisure park was going to be all roller-coasters and beefburgers. After 90 minutes, there are different proposals - somewhere to display the STUC banner, a job centre, a restored coal mine. Both the script and the participation had worked.

Drama teacher Mandy MacMillan was enthused by the involvement shown by her third year: "It was just great. The classes loved the way the TAG actors moved between the 'acting' and 'leading' roles. They really enjoyed being able to participate, and being so close to the actors." Her remarks are likely to be echoed from Lockerbie to Livingston by teachers glad that "new" TAG is not losing its educational edge.

TAG, tel: 0141 552 4949

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