26th May 2000 at 01:00
Primary. The War Of The Vegetables. A Suitably Happy Ending The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Love Me Tender. By Alison Chaplin. Photocopiable playscripts. Scholastic pound;9.99 each.

These plays, first performed at the Manchester Drama and Theatre Workshop, cater for large numbers. They contain production and workshop notes, and support linked to the national literary strategy. They offer dramatic experience to children and comprehensive advice to teachers attempting scripted drama and production for the first time.

The War of the Vegetables, for five to seven-year-olds, is a gentle comedy set in a vegetable patch. Mr Jackson accidentally drops tomato and pea seeds. They grow mixed up and fight for ownership of the patch, until they unite to fight off the bullying runner beans. The simple moral is neatly dramatised.

In A Suitably Happy Ending, a traditional fairy tale is brought up to date. The hero, Jack, is banished to the Large nd Spooky Forest because he failed his SATs. He becomes embroiled in a battle between witches and goblins. I can imagine seven to nine-year-olds loving the colloquial dialogue.

The Pied Piper necessitates a change of form. Six narrators act as a chorus - their prose contains Browning echoes and concealed rhymes. Dialogue crackles along, but the story's tragic elements are not hidden.

Love Me Tender, for top primary, is a contemporary, even powerful, version of half of Romeo and Juliet, ending abruptly with the death of Tybalt. So what happens next?

In the workshop notes, the element of improvisation developed throughout comes into its own. The theme of "a plague o' both your houses" from the three previous plays reaches its apogee. This cements the progression of the whole series, which doesn't just show how to enter into drama. The common theme begins to show something of what drama is for.

Dennis Hamley

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