A guide to children's theatre companies in Scotland
Organisations in Scotland putting on shows for and by young people
One of Scottish theatre’s great success stories is the number of exceptional children’s companies to have emerged over the last 20 years. Catherine Wheels, Frozen Charlotte, Licketyspit, the Puppet Lab, Starcatchers, TAG, Visible Fictions and Wee Stories, as well as artists such as Andy Cannon, Andy Manley and Shona Reppe, have repeatedly delighted young audiences with work that is not only the equal of adult theatre but frequently better. The international success of White by Catherine Wheels, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean by Shona Reppe and Jason and the Argonauts by Visible Fictions suggests children abroad think so too.
Behind much of this achievement is Imaginate which, as well as presenting a festival of children’s theatre every spring in Edinburgh, is a year-round supporter of home-grown companies. By bringing some of the best theatre and dance in the world to Scotland, Tony Reekie’s programmes have raised the bar for artists working for children here.
The desire for young people to join in means Scotland also has a profusion of youth theatres, many of which are pushing far beyond the old certainties of the end-of-term school play. Foremost among these is Junction 25, based at Glasgow’s Tramway, which accomplishes the rare feat of creating shows by young people that grown-ups (and not just the parents) want to see.
Artistic directors Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore free up their teenage cast to speak for themselves, while presenting their ideas in a striking, beautiful and artful way. Productions such as the Herald Angel Award-winning I Hope My Heart Goes First, about first love, and Anoesis, about the challenges of conforming to school rules, have earned the kind of rave reviews even an adult company would die for.
Over in Edinburgh, Strange Town also does a good job of putting young people’s voices on the stage. Productions are devised in conjunction with writers – names such as Sam Siggs, Tim Primrose and Duncan Kidd – who themselves have not long graduated from the company’s ranks. It’s an approach that keeps the work fresh, lively and tuned-in.
The ever-expanding Strange Town empire now includes a Young Company for 18–25s, a talent agency and a programme of after-school drama clubs. Companies doing similar work include Firefly, based in Livingston, and Toonspeak, in the Royston area of Glasgow. Many professional companies, such as Eden Court, Inverness and the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, run youth theatres, and many of these feed into Scottish Youth Theatre, a national performing arts company that holds an annual three-city summer festival culminating in a public production or two. Graduates include Karen Gillan, Gerard Butler and KT Tunstall. SYT also runs weekly drama sessions for 3–25 year olds in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Keeping an eye over the whole sector is Promote YT, which represents over 80 youth theatres, and holds the annual National Festival of Youth Theatre, the largest of its kind in the UK. It also programmes Skill Up, an annual training event for youth theatre workers.
Many professional theatre companies run educational outreach programmes to complement their productions. The National Theatre of Scotland does all this and more through its Learn department. Here, director Simon Sharkey works on the principle that ‘You can’t be creative without learning something; you can’t learn something without being creative.’ Aimed at all ages, his work ranges from staging post-show talks and backstage tours to providing resource packs for teachers and putting on community shows.