The gang that time forgot
SOLO SERIES:SOLO 1, 2 AND 3 Monologues for drama in English. By John Goodwin and Bill Taylor. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 5.50 each. Age range 11-16.
Think of a group of five children who are always having lots of adventures, who seem to encounter more than their fair share of instantly recognisable criminal types and who are prone to saying things like, "Those men definitely mean business. Nasty business". Oh, and they have a dog too. And a den. And a go-kart made out of wood and pram wheels.
Welcome to the Blytonesque world of the Green Gang, a thoroughly wholesome group of implausible "contemporary" children whose only impediment is a mode of discourse which seems to have been embalmed some time in the early Fifties. Playwright Liz John's creations plod their way through the four Storyscripts, righting wrongs between biscuits and sandwiches with an earnestness that makes the Famous Five look like ne'er-do-wells.
True, it is good to see primary play scripts that acknowledge the importance of television; the most useful part of Storyscripts is the activities section, which asks pupils to look at the plays as media texts. It is just a shame that these tasks could not be directed towards something more worthwhile such as real, broadcast television scripts. Significantly, Liz John's curriculum vitae fails to reveal any experience of teaching or working with young people. It shows.
The Green Gang would probably find John Goodwin and Bill Taylor's Solo series a distinctly "fishy business", populated as it is by real people facing recognisable dilemmas. Aimed at pupils at key stages 3 and 4, each volume consists of linked monologues around themes such as work, family and relationships.
When giving voice to some of the problems facing young people, the speeches are often moving, even on occasions reminiscent of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, such as the telling pupil monologues under "School" in Solo 1. The voices become less plausible, however, when, as in the "Titanic" sequence in Solo 3, they move beyond the immediate world of pupils' experience.
Each book of monologues has a comprehensive list of activities which teachers using these collections for tutor periods or personal and social education lessons will find invaluable. They also signal some useful starting points for drama, although, paradoxically, the one opportunity missed is to show how the monologues themselves might be effectively spoken.
David Hornbrook is arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden.