1st June 2001 at 01:00
THE THIRD CLASS GENIE. Ruth. By Robert Leeson. Collins pound;5.99 each. TES pound;4.99 each.

THE PLAY OF THE GHOST OF THOMAS KEMPE. By John O'Connor. Heinemann pound;6.25.

DRACULA. The Bully. By Jan Needle. Collins pound;5.99 each. TES pound;4.99 each.

THE PLAY OF DAZ 4 ZOE. By Joe Standerline. Heinemann pound;6.25.

Lively entertainment or a dramatic exploration of issues? Plays written for young people can fall into either camp. This selection, offering a range of parts for pupils to enjoy, embraces both categories.

Robert Leeson's The Third Class Genie raises topical social and racial issues, such as asylum seekers, but the emphasis is on the light comedy created by the interplay of reality and fantasy. Leeson starts his version of Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth with a narrator doggedly explaining the initial situation. Once the play gets under way, he makes appropriate use of the devices of Victorian melodrama, with class divisions, the cad, the innocent victim and music.

In John O'Connor's adaptation of Penelope Lively's The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, comedy and tension are created by the hero's attempts to cope with the uneasy spirit's antics as his domestic life becomes increasingly fraugt. It is an entertaining play, making dramatic connections between various points in history.

Jan Needle's adaptation of Dracula shifts between past and present, maintaining the ambiguity of where truth lies. While there is occasional risible dialogue from the stereotyped American and the English lord, dramatic possibilities are embraced. It is uncertainty that creates fear, rather than anything explicit, though there's plenty of gore. On the other hand, Needle's The Bully, the only original drama among these plays, is a classic well-meaning issue play: high on worthiness, low on drama. The issue itself is undermined by the weakness of the drama.

Joe Standerline's dramatisation of Robert Swindells's novel, Daz 4 Zoe, is quite different. It has exciting pace, shocks and surprises. The constantly shifting locations are achieved by simple settings and dramatic devices. There are issues here: of personal freedom, of the polarisation of society through economics, and they have impact because they emerge from the drama.

Noel Cassidy

Noel Cassidy teaches English at St Albans school, HertfordshireSee Curriculum Special: Music and the Arts inside this week's TES

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