Youth of Europe unite to be heard

It seemed odd to find TAG Theatre Company director James Brining loitering on the fringe of the crowd at the climax of his impressive four-year Making the Nation the programme of theatre and drama, which was devised to politicise the young people of Scotland and he had launched in the heady days of devolution. To him, however, it was the right and proper place.

"I've just watched a boy stand up and confidently speak to 130 others. I've listened to them grill public officers on health and housing. They've taken over, as they should. It's their show, not mine," he said.

"Their show" was the Young Europeans festival, a device which brought together 100 youngsters from different parts of Scotland and from Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Aland Islands to work together in the medium of theatre.

The TAG group initially spent three weeks with an innovative company in Denmark devising Meet Me, an immaculately performed sequence about the experience of travel and self, of how much identity you can carry with you in a suitcase. In an affecting finale, individuals stepped forward and talked with intimacy of the emotional charge of their most treasured possession.

It took its place in the three-day Festival of Youth Culture in Glasgow's Tramway theatre, alongside performances from Finland, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

On the first evening Tikkurilan Teatteri presented Highest Common Factor, a play that asked whether Europe was a pathway to the future or a road littered with ghosts from the past. The company was partnered by the Lyceum Youth Theatre and their acerbic, witty Big Country, a snapshot of teenagers growing up in a small town in lowland Scotland (reviewed TES Scotland July 19).

The Lemon Tree Youth Theatre premi red Body Snatchers, a play that restored Aberdeen to its own Burke and Hare. Mike Harris devised and directed a taut drama that opens up the civic and academic tumult in the granite city in the early 19th-century, when surgeons needed fresh corpses to practise on and the government was slow to change legislation.

An extra dimension to this youth culture festival was that during the second day all the young people gathered from the northern fringe of Europe took part in workshops, visits and seminars which focused on the questions "What is a nation?" and "What is Europe?" They were perceptive and insistent, and one of their refrains was "Nobody listens to us."

As if to illustrate the point, Lloyd Quinan, John McAllion and Sandra White, the three MSPs who were invited to a special lunch where they were to respond to questions on the relevance of politics to young Europeans, failed to arrive and sent no apology.

It fell, instead, to John Dickie of the Scottish Youth housing unit and Phil White of the Greater Glasgow health board to field the questions and criticisms of Scotland's provision for young people, occasionally spiced by comparison with services provided in Scandinavia.

On the third day of the festival, all the young people were mixed in creative groups of 20 to devise and perform a brief performance of what it meant to be a young European. This was the final synthesis, both for the festival and for Making the Nation, and it was special to see youths of different nationalities debating their concept of self and mutual identity through the medium of theatre.

TAG has provided a powerful reminder that the arts are not the fripperies people turn to when work is done, but sometimes are the best means of discovering important truths about ourselves and the world. It was a pity that those who legislate for our education service were not there to listen.

Brian Hayward

TAG Theatre Company, tel 0141 552 4949 www.tag-theatre.co.uk

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