Dramas to show the joy of texts

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Contemporary Scottish Plays for Higher English and Drama. by Anne Gifford and Jane Robertson. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;10.99.

Finding texts of contemporary plays is not always easy, so being presented with three excellent Scottish dramas in one book, together with helpful notes and teaching activities, is a real treat. Each play is a powerful and relevant piece which could be studied on its own, and there is ample scope for comparison between texts.

The acclaimed Medea, by Liz Lochhead, is a reworking of Euripides' original play, a tragedy about a woman driven by desperation to kill her children.

Nicola McCartney's Heritage is set in Canada between 1914 and 1920; the central story of the love affair between Sarah and Michael is counterpointed by the troubles in Ireland and the First World War. Sea Urchins, by Sharman McDonald, explores issues of growing up and family.

Originally a radio drama and reworked for the stage, it uses Sixties popular music in a number of dramatic ways.

Each of these plays would be enjoyable to read andor act in the classroom - all have strong characters and interesting use of language and dramatic techniques.

The Guidelines for Teachers explain how the plays could be used in the context of Higher Still from Intermediate 1 to Higher (though Sea Urchins would be rather challenging for Intermediate 1). They also provide "strategies for study", activities to help students explore aspects of the play in more depth, especially their understanding of character. These would be essential to those studying drama, but English teachers will also find that activities, such as Role on the Wall and Diary Extracts, are helpful and stimulating ways of deepening their students' response.

There are thorough background notes for each play, covering such areas as language, themes and relevant historical information.

An interesting addition is a textual analysis for each play, helpful in preparing students for critical essays and providing useful practice for the unseen assessment of textual analysis.

An excellent resource for students and time-pressed teachers preparing for a new text, this book is both imaginative and practical in its approach.

Anne Donovan is the author of Buddha Da (Canongate), which was short-listed for the Orange Prize. Until recently, she job-shared as assistant principal teacher of English at Hillhead High, Glasgow

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