NELSON DRAMASCRIPTS. CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS. By John O'Connor.
FAMILY FORTUNES. By Simon Adorian.
GOAT SONG. By David Calcutt.
GREAT ESCAPES. By Adrian Flynn.
LOCAL HEROES. By Sue Saunders.
LOVE AND LOSS. By David Calcutt. Nelson pound;6.25 each.
Years ago, a publisher told me young people were not interested in classic stories or ancient myths. I found it difficult to believe then, and am glad Nelson clearly does not believe it now. There is a problem with many plays written for young people, which, as Bec Large writes in the introductory material to Goat Song, "too oftenI underestimate them".
Neil Rathmell, in the same material, says: "We wanted an antidote to the usual diet of 'teenage' drama, with its conventional assumptions about the things teenagers are interested in." These six volumes of plays, based on traditional stories, myths and legends from around the globe, certainly provide that antidote, with a recognition that teenagers need not be patronised with tales of rock bands and drugs, but are young human beings with an interest in the fundamental things of human life. These are, of course, the very stuff of traditional tales the world over.
The scope is wide, with stories borrowed from many periods, cultures and traditions. Each volume provides a grouping of short plays linked by theme, with the exception of Goat Song, a single full-length play.
The plays vary enormously in style. At one extreme, David Calcutt finds an appropriate language for myth in the spare formality of the writing in Love and Loss, while at the other, Adrian Flynn's Great Escapes takes advantage of myths "still being rewritten and retold" to provide a more contemporary version of the stories, with Orpheus as a pop musician losing his chick Eurydice, a family of rapping spiders, and traditonal Bengali villagers turned into the generation who want trainers and CDs.
John O'Connor's plays in Crimes and Punishments are stylishly crafted and entertaining, each offering a flavour of its original source. In Family Fortunes, Simon Adorian writes in a contemporary vein, which works particularly well in the comedy of three greedy merchants outwitted by those they exploit, though elsewhere there are one or two infelicities, such as Isabella's brother's description of her potted lover's head as "gross" in The Pot of Basil.
Sue Saunders moves between quite different styles in Local Heroes. Particularly winning is the lively Geordie scripting of the Lambton Worm tale, while her Greek and Indian plays, written in a modern vernacular, remain faithful to the originals in tone.
Many of these plays are more suitable for classroom reading than production, making considerable demands on settings and costumes, and often constructed in short, rapidly moving scenes. Here David Calcutt benefits from the simplicity of his approach in Love and Loss, but Goat Song is a tour de force, fascinating to read, but demanding full-scale production. In pulling together several of the Greek myths and blending them with Christian mythology, he has created a dynamic and powerful play.
Bec Large, director of the first production, refers to it as "a startling display of theatre's, and life's, extremes, yet funny too". A blend of myth, it is also a blend of theatrical style, a mixture of rhymed and unrhymed verse with prose, stately Aeschylean metres with the swift knockabout of comic medieval morality.
Challenging, entertaining, stimulating - just what drama should be.
Noel Cassidy teaches English at St Albans School, Hertfordshire.l See Music and the Arts Curriculum Special in The TES this week