Make a visit to holiday island

27th November 1998 at 00:00
Literacy hour isn't the straitjacket many teachers feared it would be when it was first introduced.

Teachers are discovering that it doesn't have to preclude activities their classes had previously enjoyed. Going to the theatre for instance. It's an enjoyable and exciting event, and one which addresses specific components in the National Literacy Strategy.

Teachers taking their pupils to see Prospero's Children, an adaptation by Robin Kingsland of The Tempest, have been impressed with the play and the way it enhances and enlivens literacy work in the classroom.

Quicksilver Theatre's touring production depicts the story of the shipwrecked father Prospero, his daughter Miranda and the other-worldly Caliban and Ariel as the tale of a family underpinned by love but riven with disputes, jealousies and disappointment.

As is the way with families, this is one in which one child feels over-protected, another that she's given too much responsibility, and another that she is inferior and unloved. Each responds to her overbearing and preoccupied father in her own way. Miranda, for her part, highlights her father's own childlike qualities in his petulant attitude towards his brother Antonio.

Under Guy Holland's direction, the desolate island on which Prospero and company are marooned is transformed into a holiday beach, complete with sunglasses, sarongs, water pistols and irritating practical jokes.

But its modern setting is more than tokenistic. Robin Kingsland's wise decision to combine Shakespeare's original text with colloquial language - albeit in iambic pentameter - has the effect of breaking down the barriers that so often exist for children when presented with Shakespeare.

The contemporary language gives young audiences a way into the story and something to touch base with. It also allows for well-placed, snappily paced interludes of slapstick that break the tension and give the play the kind of verbal and physical playfulness young audiences respond to so well.

For teachers, the opportunity for their pupils to see a live performance on which to base their literacy hour work on makes all the difference.

Philip Lombard, who was one of three teachers who took junior classes from St Stephen's Church of England primary in Burnley, Lancashire, to see the play, found the timing of the performance spot-on. "In the week we went, one group was looking at characterisation, one group was concentrating on setting and another class was doing playscripts," he says."It fitted in perfectly. It has given the children a practical base for working on these aspects."

In addition to the clear-cut literacy work the play lends itself to, Philip Lombard and his colleagues found creative suggestions for cross-curricular work in the teachers' pack. Adopting them, they devised art projects based on the theme of shipwreck, a newspaper writing exercise on the factual events, a religious education theme on forgiveness and a history project, using as source material two 15th-century reports of a shipwreck, reputedly the basis for Shakespeare's story, provided in the pack.

Carey English, joint artistic director of Quicksilver, says: "The study of character, setting, how language is used in a play, plot development and poetry all legitimise going to the theatre for groups from key stage 2 and up. " And going to a play that helps demystify Shakespeare and make his work accessible is an added boon.

"It's a tall order for primary teachers who have never taught Shakespeare to tackle him where appropriate in Year 6. A visit to the theatre could make all the difference." says Carey English.

'Prospero's Children' is touring until the end of term. For details, telephone Quicksilver Theatre on 0171 241 2942.

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