Insightful views of character

17th March 2006 at 00:00
Larry Flanagan looks at rich sources of material for secondary pupils to study the arts of play writing, performance and production

Amang the Craws by Charles Barron playscript in Doric and English; pound;10; range: Intermediate 1 and 2

Drama: Amang the Craws Learning and Teaching Guide pound;5; range: Intermediate 1 and 2

English: Working with Four Contemporary Scotttish Plays student support notes pound;5; range: Higher, Intermediate 2; Learning and Teaching Scotland

Charles Barron's play Amang the Craws is published in Doric and standard English within the same volume and this aspect alone offers a richness of material for looking at language and how it relates to characterisation and performance.

The play deals with adult issues and carries a warning about its use in schools being "not suitable for a pre-15 audience". This refers primarily to a rape scene that is central to the play and although it is only staged in a stylised memory, using a chair as a prop, it nonetheless presents a frightening image, as it is meant to, which would require careful handling even with mature students.

The scenes alternate between a farm in the north-east of Scotland and, 14 years later, a death row prison cell somewhere in the United States. The movement of the two central characters, Donnie and his overbearing mother Mags, through the different sets is well scripted and the suggested use of lighting to switch from one location to the other is likely to be very effective.

The play explores the relationship between mother and son and in particular how her indulgence of her "loon" created a selfish and violent individual, guilty of rape and murder but full of self-pity rather than remorse. As he receives a final visit from his mother before execution, we view through flashback a scene from his youth that illuminates their relationship, challenging us to consider who is the most culpable.

It is an interesting and tightly written play with a number of light and comic moments, provided primarily through Meg, the grandmother, and Iris, a somewhat forward neighbour.

The Doric version, in particular, catches the nuance of speech that brings characters alive in performance, although in his introduction Barron is at ease with the idea of actors adapting the dialogue to their own familiar version of Scots.

The script is accompanied by a learning and teaching guide, focussed on Intermediate 1 and 2 but readily adaptable for Higher use. Written by David M S Roy, this has four sections: Trends and Issues, Areas of Study, Acting roles and a short interview with the playwright. It is a compact text containing specific and helpful links to the production units of Intermediate drama.

Amang the Craws is also one of the texts included in English: Working with Four Contemporary Scottish Plays. The other titles are Britannia Rules by Liz Lochhead, Tally's Blood by Ann Marie Di Mambro and The Three Estaites by Alan Spence. LTS has previously produced individual learning and teaching guides for each of these plays.

The materials offer a guide to detailed study of the texts, with sections dedicated to structural phases of the plays such as denouements, significant features such as theme and character, and key scenes. Short extracts are offered in the appendix for textual analysis.

It is unlikely that any English student will have a direct interest in more than one of the plays and teachers may choose to be selective in the use of the material. This does not detract from the worthwhile nature of the ideas and approaches contained in the text, however, and the publication as a whole is a compact reference point for each of the plays, with useful suggestions for studying them.

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