Drama through the ages;Teachers as learners;Reviews;Drama;Books

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
ACTING IN THE CLASSROOM: a critical analysis. By Gavin Bolton. Trentham Books. pound;15.95

Gavin Bolton's Acting in the Classroom - surely his magnum opus - is an impressive read, not only for the breadth of its coverage but also for the depth and quality of the background research.

The author traces the history of classroom drama from the turn of the century Romantic utopianism of Harriet Finlay-Johnson to the work of his mentor, Dorothy Heathcote, and beyond. There can be few outposts left unvisited in this rich and variegated journey. For anyone interested in the anthropology of drama-in-education the book is essential reading.

Bolton's project, into the service of which the populous cast of the book is pressed, is to redescribe the familiar processes of educational drama in the language of the theatre. "Living through" or "process" drama, he argues, is a special form of "acting behaviour".

Although the author musters witnesses effectively enough, his case may seem frustratingly esoteric to drama teachers concerned to secure for their subject a place alongside the other arts in today's over-crowded curriculum.

They will look in vain for an approach to diverse cultural forms, or to the development of dramatically literate young audiences, or to the understanding and production of plays. As his promotion of the idea of "self-spectatorship" suggests, Bolton has his roots firmly in the self-regarding, experiential naturalism of the 1960s, when to suggest pupils might achieve and make progress in the arts, or be taught things about them, was to risk sharing a quality of teaching grade with Mr M'Choakumchild.

For all that, Acting in the Classroom is a mellow and reflective account of its author's own intellectual journey over a lifetime in a field which he helped to shape. If for no other reason, it deserves a place in the library of any serious student of drama education.

* David Hornbrook is arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden. His latest book, 'On the Subject of Drama', published by Routledge, will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue.

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