Active theory

17th November 2000 at 00:00
DEVISING: A Handbook for Drama and Theatre Students. By Gill Lamden. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;5.99. DRAMA AND THEATRE STUDIES AT ASA LEVEL. By Jonothan Neelands and Warwick Dobson. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;14.99.

A book that opens with the indulgent rhetoric "Why make theatre?" is not going to make friends or influence people. At times, Gill Lamden's handbook seems better suited to the 1960s drama teacher who gets the class to warm up by shaking out all its stress.

It is also disappointing to find no coherent definition of "Devising", simply the statement that students should do it because they are "at the thresholds" of their lives. The section Actors on Devising appears promising, particularly Anita Parry's meeting with Mike Leigh, but it is debatable whether this achieves any insight into devising.

Under "Tomorrow's Artists" the section on student devisers' case studies should be innovative, but the example of a successful piece is cringe-worthy at best. A psychiatrist dies saving a boy's life, goes to heaven and pleads to be able to return to Earth. It ends with psychiatrist as a patient in a mental hospital. If this is what the devisers of tomorrow will be doing then you'll find me under "Yesterday's Theatregoer".

I have seen students portray the history of theatre through subject matter and style. It was exciting to watch. We need a chapter full of inspiring and original ideas that use students' knowledge of theory, making drama intellectually stimulating rather than simply encouraging the kind of work that results in a worthy piece on death.

As I read Drama and Theatre Studies at ASA Level, I found myself thinking about how to make use of the ideas. Obviously a good sign: seeing the theory as practice and wanting to bring it to life.

The concise introduction informs the reader how to use the book (not easy without being patronising) and there are sections on the foundation of drama and the theatre, and devising and analysing performances. The tables, particularly reading the signs of performance and director's model for textual analysis, are practical with a clear focus. The appendices are among the best I have seen, with exhaustive dates for each playwright, definitions of theatre jargon and a timeline.

There are occasional lapses in proof-reading, but they will not prevent me from ordering the book. I look forward to using it.

Jane Christopher is head of English at Droitwich Spa high school, Droitwich

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