How to make a holiday out of a family drama: Historical heresies and odd creative urges are encouraged on a theatrical weekend in northern Scotland. Rose Rouse joins the fun

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The Independent Travel
THE STAGE is set in the Oky Doky man's front room. We the audience - and the actors - are squashed in between the souvenirs and the fireplace as the drama unfolds. 'How much do you know about Macbeth?' he asks. We mumble about O-level stuff. He pooh-poohs theories about Shakespeare being Francis Bacon (he's an Edward de Vere man himself), and launches into the Oky Doky method acting course.

This takes great energy from the Oky Doky man and provides immediate gratification for drama neophytes. Basically, Steve (the Oky Doky man's real name) leads and we copy him. It's a wonderful relief: no lines to learn, no plays to construct, no improvisation, just fun.

'We need three witches,' he says. 'Not old hags, but real, sexy, beautiful ones.'

Naturally, all the women volunteer. We're stirring the cauldron of baked beans when we are asked to try out different witch intonations and indulge in rock'n' roll dances. It is the sort of acting that my English teacher would have loathed. That's the point.

This is the first Oky Doky family weekend. We arrived on Friday evening: David, a ghost-writer of such psycho-evangelical thrillers as How to Win over Worry; his partner, Loralea, who is studying divinity at St Andrews, Fife, and their 19-month-old daughter, Bina-Ruth; along with Patrick, an accountant, his wife, Fiona, who is also studying, believe it or not, divinity, and their children, Sarah, nine, and Angus, six. And me.

Patrick is playing Duncan. He is none too comfortable with his acting persona (Fiona dragged him on this holiday), and does a reluctant sword dance. Then Loralea enters as Lady Macbeth. A natural - Loralea plays her as an explosive Olive Oyl, while her husband, Macbeth (David), is literally belted across the room for coming in late . . . Steve offers hints about timing and watching out for the direction of the lighting. It's noisy, exhausting, but very accessible.

The Oky Doky rules of acting consist of putting the audience first, letting them see you, and giving an energetic performance. It's not Rada, but it's fun for anyone with participatory tendencies.

Earlier that day, I had arrived at Aberdeen airport, to be met by Steve Clark (real name) or Clark Stevens (Equity name). He was a bespectacled, cherub-faced man sporting a glaringly bright green sweater with a fluorescent orange inscription Oky Doky.

Steve, or Clark, is a children's entertainer. The Oky Doky name came from his holiday camp years and now it has become attached to the drama holidays he runs from his home in the wilds of north-east Scotland's whisky country.

Steve takes me first to Keith, his nearest small town, where Bruce, the greengrocer, greets him warmly. His children loved the workshops up at Oky Doky's house last summer. Steve has been up here for five years. He is still an outsider - he is English and a single parent - but he feels he is making some breakthroughs. One neighbouring farmer who helped him clear winter snowdrifts from his drive actually invites him and his eight-year-old son, Ianto, into his home these days.

Down the road in Keith is a co- operative which makes flower tubs and furniture out of old whisky barrels - creative recycling. Inside the gloomy workshop several men are hammering away at barrels. 'They're even having to buy new barrels,' Steve says, 'because they've got so much work.'

The Oky Doky residence - pebble-dash with mobile home outside - is set in five acres of land at Braco Brae. 'There's a field for messing around and improvisation,' Steve says, 'and we've planted a coniferous wood which will be a conservation area.'

So far, most of the drama holidays have been for children. He takes them on outings exploring the magnificent countryside, lets them stay up late and gets them involved in drama. 'I give them a space to be themselves for a while. It's all about freedom of expression and independence,' he says.

One boy had such a good time, he is bringing his mother and friend next. A letter from a Dutch mother thanks Steve for being a sensitive, understanding adult to her son, who was going through the break-up of his parents' marriage. Then there was Sarah. 'I thought I'd failed with her. There was a lot of door-slamming and major tantrums, but she wrote saying she'd really enjoyed it.'

Saturday morning, we're up and out early into the minibus, on the Macbeth trail - Steve's hobby horse. 'This could be made into a tourist attraction,' he says, 'but the Scots underplay their history.'

Before long, we arrive at a silver birch wood and walk across to the isolated and windswept shores of Spynie Loch near Bothna Gowna. We are alone. 'The real Macbeth used to live on an island,' Steve says. 'There were causeways under the water so invaders would get lost if they tried to enter.'

Steve, now fully absorbed in his serious history-loving side, maintains that Macbeth was, in fact, a good and popular king. 'Unlike in Shakespeare,' he says, 'it's Duncan the Bleeder who was the baddie. Macbeth defeated him in the ploughed fields around here.'

Shakespeare, apparently, was ordered by James VI to portray Macbeth negatively because he was having an image problem and needed his side of the family (ie, Duncan) bolstering.

We passed Forres, where Shakespeare's Macbeth was set, admiring the 1,000-year-old Pict standing stone weirdly encased in erosion-beating perspex, and Burghead, where they used to put tar on pigeons and set fire to them in the hope that they would land in invading Viking ships' rigging.

Drama rears its unnerving head again at the Carnach Hotel in Delnies, which happens to be run by Andrea Stubbs, a speech and drama teacher. Ensconced in the red velour lounge, we have to perform an operatic, a heavy metal and a child's version of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'. It is excruciating, but luckily Loralea flings herself into the exercise at full throttle.

Patrick has to do a Stanley Bagshaw reading in an appropriately Lancashire accent. He hates it. I have to read a poem about a cow, as a love sonnet. Fiona excels at reading a serious text in an angst-ridden voice and David does a wonderful Deep-South-going- camp-at-the-edges accent. The children are entertained with mime improvisations.

On our way to Pitlochry - it's a long ride - we discuss the embarrassment factor: how difficult it is, in our culture, to be stupid in front of other adults. 'It's just a matter of practice and getting through the fear barriers,' says Fiona, who has - and whose husband hasn't.

The afternoon is spent at the theatre in Pitlochry, watching Living Together, one of Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests trilogy. It is a comedy of table manners applied to British relationships, all too true but boring to watch. An audience of grey ladies and gentlemen lap up the inaction.

Back at the house Steve feeds us home-made vegetable curry. Somehow he manages to cook, drive and turn into a roving Tom Paxton in the evenings. He used to be a folk singer. And it shows . . .

Sunday (late) morning, we are given a circus skills workshop by Caius, who gave up being a political researcher to become a clown. He resides at the Findhorn spiritual community, not far away. They advocate 'work is love' and Caius emanates something incredible to get our motley crew, juggling, diabolo-throwing and unicycling.

The juggling was surprisingly meditative, but unicycling took the biscuit. The sensation of almost falling off and then catching yourself could be addictive. Patrick, despite his wobbly acting, turned out to be an excellent plate spinner.

The weekend finished with Steve filming us concoct a bizarre video story. A bath in the drive turned into a bus, David became a German-speaking driver with manic gestures, the passengers paid in plastic ducks, a baby melted and we all ended up with the bath, sorry, bus, in the barn. We wondered whether Grampian Television would be interested in our version of Twin Peaks.

FACT FILE

Getting there Flights from London Heathrow to Aberdeen on British Airways (081-897 4000) start at pounds 87 for a special promotional 'seatsale' fare; normal Apex return is pounds 125. An Apex rail fare from London to Aberdeen costs pounds 54.

Cost

One-week courses pounds 235 (up to 18 years old), pounds 245 (18-plus); weekend courses pounds 75 (up to 18), pounds 85 (18-plus) for full-board and basic accommodation. Oky Doky Holidays, Bin View, Braco Brae, Grange, Keith AB55 3TP (05425 623).

Other companies

Several of the companies specialising in residential holidays for children, or parents and children, offer drama and video-making. For example, PGL Holidays (0989 768768) has 'Stage Struck' weeks at its Rossall centre in Lancashire, for ages eight to 11, 10 to 13, and 12 to 16, for pounds 259. Other companies include Ardmore (0628 890060); Mill on the Brue (0749 812307); Millfield School Village of Education (0458 45823); and Severn Valley Sports (0453 842892).

(Photograph omitted)

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