Putting pirates and aliens in the hot seat
Neatly designed to slip alongside the new slim-line national curriculum documents, the Primary Drama Handbook is well laid out and accessible. Each of seven chapters contains hints on ways of working, backed up by fully worked-out practical examples.
Pirates, aliens, evacuees, farmers, miners and Saxons all feature and the sample lessons are easy to follow and related to key stages. It makes good value for just over 50 pages.
Inspired by the work of Gavin Bolton and Dorothy Heathcote, the ideas of these two drama practitioners figure prominently. There is an emphasis on role playing, both for teachers and pupils. To help those unfamiliar with the techniques, the authors provide one of the clearest guides to the tricks of the trade I have come across; devices such as "hot-seating" and "still image" are introduced with minimum fuss. As well as being simply explained, the jargon is never allowed to interfere with the movement of the text or the book's intensely practical focus. Teachers will welcome the sections on more down-to-earth matters such as the organisation of space, timing and class control, which are equally prominent.
Those accustomed to working across the arts in the primary school may find some of the theory a bit precious. The distinction between "getting the children to make up plays in groups" or "learning lines and performing in front of parents" and what the authors describe as "real drama" fortunately does not reflect the unselfconsciously eclectic approach to performance in the primary schools I visit. And while Neil Kitson and Ian Spiby claim that their system "empowers" pupils to understand drama - without the benefit, it would seem, of performing or watching plays - they do not suggest any framework for progression parallel to those in the other arts.
Photographs and illustrations are plentiful and each aspect of the classroom approach is sufficiently self-contained to allow the discerning teacher to pick and choose. On balance, good sense shines through the theory. As the authors themselves point out, drama is no universal panacea,just "an immensely useful and rewarding way of working".
David Hornbrook is General Inspector of Performing Arts for the London Borough of Camden.