History is a class act

16th February 2007 at 00:00
THE ARGUMENT for the special power of drama in education has been won; the problem now is how to get it to more children for more of the time.

One answer comes from Visible Fictions theatre company, who are delivering their Armchair War project in primary schools this term, and aiming for greater diffusion by involving the classroom teacher in their work with serious skills and personal development issues.

The Second World War is a familiar P7 topic, and the company prepared the teachers for the method with a two-hour drama workshop at the end of last term. Now the Visible Fictions team is working for a day with teachers in nine schools for each of the Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, East and North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire authorities.

Elaine Kent, Renfrewshire's cultural co-ordinator, had picked out Visible Fictions for the "sheer quality" of the drama work in an earlier project.

"I asked if they'd develop it for us, and their director, Douglas Irvine, suggested I put the idea to other cultural co-ordinators," she said. "They were eager to join and, as the Scottish Arts Council is keen on inter-authority collaboration, it became the major funder, so the cost to the schools is only pound;150."

Teacher involvement continues through the day. The Visible Fictions drama team starts work with the P7s in the morning, getting to know them and easing them into the drama method by first "sitting and talking", using such bridging devices as how familiar TV programmes might have been done in the 1940s.

After lunch, they are blitzed with drama. Coming into the room, they discover they have applied to enrol as ARP (air raid precautions) wardens.

Their gentle instructors of the morning have now be-come the uniformed characters Anderson and Morrison, half-comically haranguing them about wearing their gas masks and enforcing the blackout.

The drama lesson lasts two hours. That the time slides by unnoticed and that every child is involved virtually every moment of the time, is a tribute to the drama method and the team.

The project was devised and directed by Elly Goodman, whose mature and practised style disguises the ease with which she mixes simple and sophisticated drama and theatre method to sustain the momentum of learning.

One moment the children are laughing at the silly "Potato Song", which celebrates a staple of the wartime diet, the next they are listening carefully to Neville Chamberlain saying that "no such assurance has been received" and Winston Churchill vowing to "fight them on the beaches" and discussing their tonal differences.

She is splendidly served by her two drama workers, who run the gamut of educational and theatre techniques with quickfire repartee. I saw them at St Margaret's Primary in Johnstone quite early on in their run. Given another 40 two-hour performances, they surely have enough rapport to tour their double act on the B circuit.

Steven Leach does a handful of worried and angry husbands but is oddly moving as the seven-year-old evacuee, planning to run away from his fierce foster mother. His best duologue with the expressive Rosalind Smith is possibly the auld wifies' row in the brisket queue. She can be an affecting war victim, and her parody of the 1940s educational film stays in the memory.

At the end the children sighed with more than histrionic regret.

And class teacher Sarah Prow's opinion? "Absolutely brilliant. All those children have been giving 100 per cent since 10 o'clock this morning. I didn't think I was the drama type, but I'm certainly going to do some in the future."

Visible Fictions T 0141 221 8727

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