Everyone can play a part

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Spotlight on Plays series The Brementown Musicians; The Hairy Toe; Bendemolena; Short Pants; The Billy Goats Tough; The Crazy Critters; Maui Tames the Sun; The Princess and the Pea; Kaleidoscope Collins pound;4.25 each Teacher's Guide pound;10.99

Primary Playscripts series The Friends, the King and the Enchantress (Year 3); The Gremlins, the Trickster and the Hamster (Year 4) The Ghost, the Princess and the Tortoise (Year 5) ; The Footballers, the Wizard and the Playwright (Year 6) Letts pound;4.00 each

The Willow Pattern Jeremy and the Thinking Machine The Gift of the Gab Daffodil Scissors Alice in the News Barrington Stoke pound;4.99 each

Even the simplest drama offers opportunities for learning not found in the most complex written narrative.

Taking on a character - whether a dog or a god - allows children to speak in a new voice. The Spotlight on Plays series is intended for lower key stage 2, nd much of its inspiration comes from folk tales. There are stories like "The Princess and the Pea", which will need 20 gym mats and a castle to be effectively staged; and there are others like "The Hairy Toe" which only require people, because all the imagery is derived from the spoken word or extended vocal techniques.

Kaleidoscope comprises three short dramas, each adapted from a poem by Michael Rosen, featuring multiple chocolate biscuits, square tomatoes and glasses equipped with windscreen wipers. These, too, can be cheerfully imagined rather than produced by the props department.

As most of the plays have parts for about eight performers, there is every encouragement to perform more than one, if only to make sure everyone in the class gets a starring role.

Primary Playscripts provide one play a term for each year at KS2. The settings, themes and styles cover a very wide range: school story, Arthurian legend, fantasy adventure, animal fable, ghost yarn and social realism. Well-known names such as Wes Magee and Gareth Owen are among the authors, the former giving a striking version of Odysseus's encounter with Circe, the latter a poetic-macabre little piece about a skateboarding feat that goes mysteriously wrong. Serious issues have their place: the loss of a class hamster becomes the occasion for a sensitive dramatic discussion on death and mourning. Perhaps the most intriguing play is set in the year 1606, where we learn about - but never actually meet - the most famous dramatist of all.

The five scripts from Barrington Stoke are more ambitious in scope and intention. Originally commissioned by the National Theatre for the launch of its Assembly Programme, they are set out in a manner that makes them accessible to dyslexic children. Colour coding and graphics are used to distinguish between roles and to clarify the nature of stage directions.

There is detailed and sensible guidance for adults, covering the learning of parts, the use of improvisation, the exploration of character and the elucidation of moral and social themes.

These 20-minute pieces will be suitable for the upper reaches of KS2 and perhaps for Years 7 and 8 too. The authors - including the Smarties Prize winner Philip Ridley - are all experienced in writing for young people, and they deal with issues that will lead to wider classroom discussion. Alice gets caught in a battle between words and consonants before she understands something important about the nature of language; the Great Gab is also concerned with communication, this time between many different cultures; Jeremy learns from an eccentric fairy godmother that "there's no machineLike the human brain". They show with humour and imagination that drama is a matter of discovering new truths about ourselves.

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