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Unusual dare drew teenagers into the dark

Into the Dark. Visible Fictions touring to Theatre Royal, Glasgow. October 20, 21.

When it comes to targeting theatre audiences, most box office managers would rather tend to agree with Shakespeare's old shepherd in the desert country of Bohemia and wish there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty. Not, however, when Visible Fictions takes to the stage.

While most theatres look on teenagers as the lost generation, this company first devises young people's theatre and then sells it to them with verve and imagination.

Take the selling first. To open its tour of Into the Dark in Edinburgh, the company went into the streets, youth clubs and local discos, handing out slips of paper with the play's title, the question "How far dare you go?"

and the address of the website created especially for the play.

This leafleting may have briefly attracted the attention of the police but it intrigued the young people to the extent that some took a handful of slips and helped with the distribution. More conventionally, members of the company also went into 10 Lothian secondary schools to talk about the production and the making of it.

As hoped, the nature of the dare and challenge drew an audience.

The young are drawn towards horror stories and tales of the supernatural.

They know that fear fences you in and that adolescence is the time to push outwards at the boundaries of your personality. Wanting to be frightened is something we grow out of about the time we take out our first mortgage. So writer Donald Mcleary's play takes a gang of four boys and a girl of impeccable street credibility and sets about scaring them and us with some ancient and modern terrors.

The five teenagers certainly would have impressed Officer Krupke (of West Side Story) with their tally of promiscuous, substance-abusing, social security-cheating parents. They hang about in the evenings, quarrelling while they drink what they have managed to shoplift.

In their idleness, the talk turns to a strange old woman who reputedly lives in the wood, and for a thrill and a laugh they decide to search for her home.

At this point, having set up internal tensions in the gang, the story moves into fantasy and the wood becomes a kind of moral maze, where the courage, loyalty, integrity and credulity of each gang member is tested. Scenes of a first kiss being shared, of a knife fight between friends, of arguing the responsibility for the apparent murder of the old woman all stilled to engaged silence a young audience who had arrived boisterously nervous.

Mcleary's proven talent for comedy (much in evidence on radio and television) is invaluable for defusing tension in the audience. It serves the same purpose in a second act where the interest is mostly in the long, intense conversations, while the story becomes a baffling, Harry Potter-like series of inexplicable events but without the premise of magic.

However, wanting it all to make sense seemed to be my adult hang-up, because the young ones seemed well-satisfied by their evening's entertainment. Having come in like a football crowd, they left like a theatre audience. Since this was the purpose of the enterprise, chalk it up as another success for director Douglas Irvine, his excellent young cast and the wordless Vari Sylvester. And for the old shepherd, who reckoned youths were only interested in getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing and fighting.

Brian Hayward

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