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Keira's helpful prompt

AT the tender age of 23, Oscar-nominated actress Keira Knightley has already enjoyed spectacular success.

She has bent it like Beckham, sailed the seven seas with Johnny Depp and been a decoy for Luke Skywalker's mum. But to Sharman Macdonald, she will always be her little Rosaline.

Back in 1999, the Scottish playwright and her daughter brought an unseen Shakespearean character to life for the first time in After Juliet.

In fact, Romeo's first love would never have seen the light of day had Knightley not asked her mum: "What happened to Rosaline?"

The play, which attempts to answer this question, comes to the Royal Lyceum tonight as part of its youth theatre extravaganza, Summer on Stage.

"It's the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet and what happened to Rosaline," says Macdonald.

"Keira and I decided that Shakespeare's conclusion was a little optimistic and that the deaths of these two youngsters wouldn't stop the carnage between the Montagues and the Capulets."

The piece was originally commissioned for the 1999 NT Shell Connections programme, in which regional youth theatre groups compete to stage short plays by established playwrights.

And it was Keira herself who played the lead role of Rosaline at the Young Vic in London.

"She was wonderful," says Macdonald, who lives in Teddington, Middlesex. "Keira has extraordinary grace on stage. She has a heroic quality about her but she's also extremely vulnerable at the same time. She's also quite funny - she can bring all that to a role."

The wife of stage actor Will Knightley, Glasgow-born Macdonald wrote her first play, When I was A Girl, I Used To Scream and Shout, because the family was short of money and because she "was desperate never to act again".

Having already had one child, Caleb, who was born in 1979, Macdonald was keen to have a second. So her husband made a tongue-in-cheek bet - a second child for the sale of a script.

Macdonald took up the challenge and When I was A Girl debuted at the Bush Theatre, London in 1984 it won her the Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright.

The following year, Keira was born and the rest is history.

"You can't predict this kind of success at all," says Macdonald on her daughter's status as one of Hollywood's hottest properties.

"But if you're asking me if I knew she was brilliant then yes, I did, she was astonishing. I always knew she was extremely talented."

Her daughter's performances continue to move the playwright and none more so than in Atonement, the powerful new film by Joe Wright.

"I sobbed my heart out," says Macdonald. "I was actually embarrassing in the cinema. Across the board, it's an astonishing piece of work. So when I see something like that I feel beyond proud."

Knightly will also be starring alongside Cillian Murphy and Sienna Miller in The Edge Of Love, a film written by a certain Sharman Macdonald.

But Macdonald remains proud of After Juliet.

"I followed it when it was first on, it was done by a lot of groups and that was absolutely thrilling," she says.

"The play is quite loose and can be set in any town in the world - except Glasgow. This is because one of the characters (Rhona) is from Glasgow and she's very obviously not at home.

"The kids have a huge input into the play. I've seen it set in the 15th century and I've seen it set in the future. I've seen it done on the beach, on scaffolding, with mandolins, electric guitars and I've even seen a New Romantics version.

"I don't usually like seeing my own stuff over and over again, but this one's different every time."

The woman charged with making the Lyceum version different is Ruth Hollyman.

"I was presented with a class of 32 young people and finding a suitable play was very difficult," she says.

"One of the main reasons I chose After Juliet was because I think it's important for youngsters to play people their own age rather than play adults. They've not experienced adulthood yet."

Hollyman was also drawn to the fact that Macdonald's play lends itself to interpretation.

"I wanted it to have a timeless quality," says Hollyman. "This kind of feuding happened hundreds of years ago, it's happening now and it will sadly happen in the future.

"There's an Elizabethan quality to the costumes, but there is also a punky feel to them - there's a lot of tartan.

"It's set in an Edinburgh back green. There are washing poles, tenements and scaffolding. And the kids are going to have quite wacky make-up."

In the lead role is 13-year-old Lucia D'Inverno.

"She's great," says Hollyman. "She's a confident little performer. She's very strong and has a real truthful quality to her."

Playing Rosaline certainly didn't do the playwright's daughter any harm. Next stop, Hollywood.

• After Juliet, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, today and tomorrow, 6.30pm, 9 (5), 0131-248 4848

Summer on Stage takes to the woods

INTO The Woods may well be, in the words of Steve Mann, "One of the most challenging musicals ever written", but the director had absolutely no reservations about plumping for Stephen Sondheim's multi-award-winning show as the second of this year's two Summer on Stage productions.

"It's one of my favourite shows," he says. "The music's fantastic and the writing has a very dark humour to it. It works on a lot of different levels."

The production, which will be performed by 28 youngsters as part of the three-week musical theatre course at the Royal Lyceum, sees the likes of Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood make guest appearances in a story about a childless baker and his wife.

"It's going to have very magical elements to it," says Mann. "It's fun, it's clever, it's interesting and the music is fabulous."

Costume designer Lara Booth was assisted by students from Edinburgh College of Art, while participants from the technical theatre course have helped contribute to the production side.

"It's a great opportunity for young people to come into the Lyceum and work with a big professional team," says Mann.

• Into the Woods, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, today and tomorrow, 8.30pm, 9 (5), 0131-248 4848

ALSO PLAYING

Beauty and the Beast

ONCE upon a time there was a selfish young prince who found himself transformed into a ferocious beast . . .

The UK Production of Disney's ever-popular tale "as old as time" continues its two-week run at the Playhouse.

Come along and meet the beautiful heroine Belle (Ashley Oliver), Lumiere the charming candelabra, Cogworth, a tightly-wound mantle clock and Mrs Potts, a sweetly maternal teapot.

• Beauty and the Beast, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, until July 28, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), 10.50-30, 0870-606 3424

THE SINGING KETTLE

The Singing Kettle are moseying into the Festival Theatre for a rootin' tootin' adventure this weekend.

Slip on your chaps and a ten-gallon hat and join the gang as they try to find their missing kettles, which have been stolen by the notorious Prickly Pear Gang, before noon.

This Wild West Show will feature singalong songs like My Boy's A Cowboy, Camphorated Oil and Skip To Ma Lou as well as a toe-tappin' hoe-down. Yee-haw!

• The Singing Kettle - Wild West Show, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, today 2pm, tomorrow 11am and 2pm, Sunday 12 and 3pm, 9 (families 34, babies 2), 0131-529 6000

 
 
 

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