WHEN David Greig was asked by Glasgow's TAG Theatre to write a play about young carers, he thought he'd better talk to the teenagers themselves. The company hooked him up with a group of young people in Fife who were responsible for looking after family members. He asked them how they would like to be represented on stage and their message was clear: make it funny.
"My initial instinct was informed by quite a lot of assumptions," says Greig. "I thought of them as poor things in a terrible situation. And, of course, they're just normal teenagers who are in a particular situation which they respond to just as you or I would, and there's a great deal of joy and humour in the situation."
That was all the inspiration he needed to write The Monster in the Hall, a highly entertaining four-hander about a girl called Duck who has to keep an eye on a father with multiple sclerosis while getting on with the serious business of dating a boy. "I started to think about some of the dilemmas inherent in teenage life about authority or doing as you're told," he says. "And it was interesting to think about those dilemmas in a reversed situation."
By chance, the play is one of two teen-friendly plays by Greig on the Fringe. In Short Productions, from the University of Bristol, is reviving his Yellow Moon: The Ballad of Leila and Lee, a tremendous piece of storytelling theatre about two teenagers who are forced to go on the run. Both plays work equally well for adults (and are definitely not for anyone younger than 14) but by taking teenagers seriously, they strike a particular chord with an age group often neglected by the theatre.
Performed in stripped-down fashion by four excellent actors, Monster in the Hall plays with a young carer's fear of being taken into care. Many such teenagers go to great pains to appear to be in control and that made Greig think of farce – what he calls the funniest form of theatre.
"Farce is exactly about pretence," says Greig whose CATS award-winning comedy The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is also appearing on the Fringe. "It's about someone desperately trying to hold up a picture of the world that is respectable, while in fact it is crumbling all around them. My assumption was I would write a very tragic, noble story about a brave young person and their struggle, but in fact I realised I had to write a farce about a girl desperately trying to pretend everything's OK when it plainly it isn't."
It was an approach that worked and, although it was critically lauded, there was only one audience Greig cared about. "The young carers saw it at a gym hall in Methill and they responded fantastically. They were very nice about it and I was thrilled. It got a great response on tour, and that was extremely gratifying, but I felt immune to any responses because my primary audience had enjoyed it."
WHERE & WHEN
THE MONSTER IN THE HALL
4–28 August (not 8, 15, 22), times vary.
Tel: 0131 228 1404
YELLOW MOON: THE BALLAD OF LEILA AND LEE
3–29 August (not 16), 7pm.
Tel: 0845 260 1234
THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART
Traverse @ Ghillie Dhu,
2–27 August (not 8, 15, 22), 3pm.
Tel: 0131 228 1404
© Mark Fisher 2011
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