Mastery of the medium

18th November 1994 at 00:00
Massacre at Myall Creek, By John Summons, Cambridge Pounds 5.95 0 521 44763 1.

Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays, By Alan Ayckbourn, Samuel French Pounds 5.25 0 573 05098 8. Heinemann Plays, Buddy's Song, By Nigel Hinton, Pounds 3.99. 0 435 23306 8 Burning Everest, By Adrian Flynn, Mariza's Story, By Michele Celeste Pounds 4.25. 0 435 23308 4. Collins Upstagers Wiley and the Hairy Man, By Suzan Zeder, Pounds 4.25. 0 00 330308 X. Nelson Dramascripts Extra Gulliver, By Brian Woolland, Pounds 3.50. 0 17 432486 3. The Travels of Yoshi and the Tea Kettle, By Lynne Reid Banks, Pounds 3.50. 0 17 432488 X. Pure Science, By Nick Dear, Pounds 3.50. 0 17 432487 1, The Last Laugh, By Ben Payne, Pounds 3.50. 0 17 432489 8. I am not sure how well theatre-in-education scripts translate into classroom resources. After all, it is often the energy and creativity that a particular company bring to a text that carry the day.

This may be why Massacre at Myall Creek presents itself as a series of rather pedestrian duologues between white men involved in one of the all too frequent incidents of casual slaughter of native Australians by occupying Europeans in the 19th-century. Little of the sparkle of performance survives. In view of the play's strong anti-racist message, it is also perhaps surprising that the Aboriginal people themselves have no voice.

After this, coming across Alan Ayckbourn's Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays was rather like a starving man coming across a crate of Mars bars. Whatever you think of Ayckbourn you cannot deny his mastery of the medium. From the scene-stealing dog Neville, to the ingenious search scenes at the end (in which the audience actually takes control of the action) and Suzy's dad's triumphant return - deus ex machina - in a balloon, the play's energy and wit grip the imagination. Definitely for Incredible Illucinations fans Heinemann continues to publish well-known titles. The Importance of Being Earnest and Death of a Salesman are among those which have appeared this year. At the same time, old stalwarts are balanced by new - or less familiar - names. Nigel Hinton has dramatised his popular children's rock 'n' roll novel. Buddy's Song (complete with songs). Burning Everest, about a boy's mountaineering fantasies, and Mariza's Story, which dramatises the tragic lives of Brazilian street children, are both recent winners of W H Smith Plays for Children Awards.

Faced with a pile of playscripts to review, I sometimes wonder what factors most influence a teacher's choice of plays for the classroom. Now we know that there is no required playwright apart from Shakespeare, a major consideration must surely be the ideas for extension activities and other supporting material supplied with a play.

In this respect, the editions reviewed here vary enormously. Heinemann offer conventional lists of textual questions but very little teasing out of how the plays work as dramas. As for Cambridge, the additional material for Massacre at Myall Creek, as might be expected from the piece's origins, concentrates on the historical context and the moral issues raised by the play.

In marked contrast, Cecily O'Neill's comprehensive resource material for Collins' Upstagers series overflows with ideas for bringing texts alive and widening students' understanding of the theatre; Suzan Zeder's magical, fast-moving nightmare about the traumas of growing up, Wiley and the Hairy Man, is no exception.

Consistently impressive in the packages they offer are Nelson's Dramascripts Extra. The four latest in this series all have a mass of support material designed to stimulate interest in this series and opportunities for further exploration. As well as providing us with a clever dramatisation of the travels to Lilliput and Laputa, Brian Woolland's Gulliver adds a selection of activities to draw us into Swift's satirical world as well as suggestions for characterisation and staging. In The Travels of Yoshi and the Tea Kettle, Lynne Reid Banks uses a Kabuki style to tell a simple folk story while the playscript supplies all that is needed by way of information about Japanese theatre.

Pure Science is a macabre but funny play about two elderly suburban alchemists who discover the Elixir of Life - supporting engravings, photographs and explanatory diagrams help students enter their Faustian world - while Ben Payne's The Last Laugh brings humour to the very serious issue of human rights, as travelling joke salesman, Bobby Bunting, is rescued from a hospital for the criminally comic in a "fun free" country from which laughter has been banned. The place of humour in resistance is fully explored, both in the play and through the associated activities, and links with recent world events are forcefully made. At Pounds 3.50 each, these Nelson playscripts are excellent value for money.

Samuel French, of course, make no concessions, publishing in their well-known format with lists of cues, props and furniture. Still, with Ayckbourn on board, perhaps they don't need to.

David Hornbrook is Performing Arts Inspector for the London Borough of Camden.

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