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Trapped in time

DRAMAWORKS By Allan Owens and Keith Barber Carel Press Pounds 13.50.

Dramaworks has half a dozen drama projects on familiar themes - a haunted house, a space mission and gangs - "classics", the authors tell us, which they have enjoyed repeating over the years and which, they suggest, are now so well run in that they may be used successfully with all ages and abilities from primary to post-graduate students. Form and content, one might say, coincide perfectly in this little volume with both the paper and the ideas 100 per cent recycled.

The projects - or "pretexts" as Owens and Barber call them - are preceded by a mission statement, which, in the manner of such declarations, combines high-mindedness ("the human need to symbolise meaning") and vacuous assertion ("the drama process can be empowering") in equal measure. This is followed by back-of-the-packet instructions on how to perform drama-in-education tricks such as "speech bubbles". Those in the know will recognise the jargon, but teachers not familiar with curiosities like "mantle of the expert" will find it hard going, especially when in one "pretext" the teacher is supposed to be "in role" as a porcupine.

It's a bit pedestrian. The style is awkward, making the book a struggle to read, and one is left wondering what on earth these activities are for? Although Owens and Barber list what they call "possible learning areas" for each project, these turn out to be vague - "oppression", "assertiveness", and "revenge" - and there are no suggestions as to how pupils' progression through the exercises that make up the "pretexts" might be assessed.

This task is not made easier by the authors' failure to see any problem about giving the same tasks to Year 5 pupils as to students with Firsts in Theatre Arts. One awaits their next book, which promises to explain such matters, with interest.

Finally, it is extraordinary that a handbook for teachers can be published in England without reference to the national curriculum. Dramaworks seems to be trapped in a time warp, the "pretexts" hanging in educational limbo. I cannot imagine many teachers having the energy to struggle through the gobbledegook to reach them.

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