Everyone on stage

Gerald Haigh

CURTAIN UP Photocopiable Plays BEAUTY AND THE BEAST By Jacqueline Wilson. THE CHRISTMAS STORY By David Wood. CINDERELLA By Kaye Umansky A C Black Pounds 8.99 each.

What any teacher wants from a school play, of course, is lots of parts for lots of children - something that these writers understand very well. So between them these three plays have, as well as all the named characters, eight bushes, six willing hands, a gate played by two people, four soldiers, six innkeepers, and flexible numbers of cows, donkeys, angels, sheep, courtiers and mice.

The authors also know what it is like for adults to sit on school chairs, so two of the plays are written to last three-quarters of an hour with no interval. (Which means not having to mess about giving people plastic cups of tea and trying to prise the governors away from the sherry and back to their seats). Christmas Story could be as short as this, but it could also be made, appropriately enough, into a full evening with music.

These really are excellent, child-centred and warm-hearted offerings. Beauty and the Beast tells the traditional tale with a light and witty touch. "You are a little slug-like" says Beauty to the Beast, who admits to "a slight slime problem" Cinderella, which is in robust pantomime style, starts with a good chant from the mice about, of course, "Cheese! Cheese! Cheese! Cheese! Something `bout the smell that Brings me to me knees!" The stepsisters - Semolina and Ravioli - have a good line in Lyceum repartee. "Eggs get you cracking in the morning". "But prunes get you going". "True, but you can't beat eggs."

There are one or two songs in this show - just the words, and a suggestion that they can be sung to existing tunes such as "Old McDonald Had a Farm" (". ..here a chip, there a chip.") The Christmas Story is also written with understanding of how primary schools work. Teachers and parents still want, for example, somewhere, the traditional nativity "tableau" - Mary, Joseph, the baby, kings, shepherds, angels, animals.

David Wood gives us this right at the start, before the play begins. "All the actors are very still, as if frozen," says the direction. "The musical introduction to 'Silent Night' plays". What a wonderful moment this always is. May it long continue.

The old familiar story then unfolds, interspersed with traditional carols. It is written with simple dignity, in words which are easy to learn and understand and yet are faithful to the Bible account. And, yes, we do have the tableau again at the end. Look no further for your nativity play this year.

The play text in these publications is photocopiable, and is therefore printed at a sensible size. In addition, there are detailed, illustrated and extremely helpful notes about staging, characters and costumes.

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