In an interview accompanying the video of his play Hannah and Hanna, John Retallack describes his intentions: "I wanted to use words only when they were essential. I wanted to be able to use as many styles as possible. I wanted to be able to use songs and movement to tell the story."
Each of the plays in The Drama Book, the latest addition to the English and Media Centre's KS3 English Series, reflects this attitude. Among more than 60 publications, this is the centre's first book on drama. Its editors, Michael Simons and Lucy Webster, provide an exhilarating introduction to contemporary theatre for pupils aged 11 to 14. As well as the script of Retallack's Hannah and Hanna, the volume includes three other original full-length plays, each followed by a range of discussion topics, improvisation ideas and writing tasks. The pattern of scripts supported by resources is a popular one among English teachers, but the strength of this book is in the inventiveness of the scripts. They all go beyond naturalism, using song, movement, dance and games to tell four different stories in dramatically innovative ways.
Year 7s will enjoy the wildly futuristic and surreal Mama Yankee's Life Machine by Ed Hime. In an underground world, the oppressed workers are addicted to meat pies and dominated by Mama Yankee and her Life Machine - "part disease and part vaccine". The only resistance to her evil empire comes from dissident vegetarians, armed with the dreaded Banana Bomb.
A Liverpool street comes to life in Abi Brown's Hey There Boy With The BeBop. It's a tough and touching story. Leo, a teenager dying from a brain tumour, alters and energises his prejudiced neighbours through rock 'n'
roll and jive. The up-to-the minute slang and topicality of the references may eventually date the play, but pupils will relate to its exploration of shifting friendships, family tensions and local prejudices. The last two scripts in the selection, Helmet and Hannah and Hanna, have been successfully staged for general audiences and photos of performances are effectively used to stimulate discussion.
Helmet, a two-hander by the Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell, uses the conventions of a computer game to chart the characters' changing emotional relationships. The originality of the play's framework is echoed in the accompanying activities which provide some of the most interesting and thought-provoking suggestions in the book.
Hannah and Hanna is a hard-hitting examination of the plight of asylum seekers in Margate, seen through the eyes of two teenagers, one a local girl and the other from Kosovo. These two actors represent all the characters - police, pensioners, and skinheads. Songs and movement underline many of the play's key moments. As well as writing and performance suggestions, the activities section provides valuable background information on the plight of asylum seekers in Britain. Videos of these last two plays accompany The Drama Book, and include interviews with the writers and actors.
Further resources on www.englishandmedia.co.uk