I have said in another column that I would like to see school productions being more adventurous, tackling more adult themes as and when the director of drama of said school considers it appropriate. But I wanted to elaborate a bit on that. Firstly, I will always endorse the attitude that with something as ambiguous and subjective as theatre, there cannot be a universal or even a national governing body that decides anything to do with what gets put on and where. The way I see it, the theatre has always been one of the least didactic aspects of life- as a more rebellious or enthusiastic personality might say "they can't tell us what to do", and though it seems too simplistic: here, it is apt.
I would rather allow schools (and by extension anyone) to produce any play they like and 'offend' a few people, than put repression of any kind upon the cultural niche I call home. You don't have to agree with me, but I thought I'd clarify that for context to this column, as when I now come to write about productions I'd like to see in schools, I shall mean versions that are unchanged, uncensored and unabridged. What's more, I would have no age restrictions on said productions. So without further ado, here are 7 plays of which I want to see an unabridged, all-accessible, school production.
1. Our Day Out
Willy Russell's written-for-TV play 'Our Day Out' is in my opinion superior to the perhaps more renowned and more celebrated 'Blood Brothers'. It explores themes ranging from poverty and social inequality to friendship, the benefits and setbacks of education styles and most importantly features a scene of genuine emotional connection between the most unlikely of characters. It's a play I think we need in the world today because certain ideas the play exposes and fights for, have been somewhat lost in the way we live our lives. I saw a wonderful version of this play performed at my own former school, The King's School Chester (UK), by performers in the lower years of the school. It wasn't perfect, sure, nor is the play itself; and I don't think it's fair to expect many school productions to be perfect. But the scene between Mr Briggs and Carol, which those of you who know the play would recognise, was touching, and proved to me that an unabridged version would have perhaps been even better.
2. Mother Courage and Her Children
Its length is the only justification for editing the script. This one by Brecht is often underappreciated. Perhaps because, in the UK anyway, it is used in higher education drama courses. I think though, that if the play were to make a difference style of approach to a school which is dramatically enthusiastic enough, such as it being in the form of a school production; freedom of direction and its rich thematic and character exploration would I think serve to once again excite young people about Bertolt Brecht. Mother Courage's mature and deeply moving contextualisation of war, immigration, emigration, family, religion and indeed motherhood, supercedes most other plays of a similar genre. And it is well worth giving students of a similar knowledge and maturity the chance to share that play with the rest of the school.
3. The Trial
Unfortunately, I myself have not yet seen a production of this Berkoff play adapted from Kafka's novel of the same name (except not in English). However, its political metaphors and exciting premise of the protagonist being both unawares and oppressed at the same time make a couple like no other. I believe that putting this kind of play on in a school would be like putting on '1984', only slightly better because it is less known and as a result more enticing.
4. Our Country's Good
One of my favourite things about this Timberlake Wertenbaker play, is its inspiration. It was written, in part anyway, in response to Thatcher's cutting of Arts funding in Britain during her time as prime minister, and argues emphatically the importance of theatre in the world. In this play's plot for example, in which a young lieutenant attempts to stage a play performed by convicts in Australia in 1789, the theatre represents both a healing mechanism, and an opportunity for communication, humanity, and bonding. Now again, this play has been used in the UK as course material for Drama, but I would love to see the play given the same treatment as I have described for Mother Courage. They are both important texts, and deserve to have official, unabridged productions in schools.
This Greek tragedy is one that has been recently performed on the West End, and I think that the way in which it manages to discuss timeless issues (love, family, betrayal...), almost beats Shakespeare to the punch. Many call for more Shakespeare to be performed in schools, and whilst I wholeheartedly agree, I think we need more ambitious stuff too. There have been a huge number of contemporary interpretations and I believe the play would offer something interesting and new to a school's theatre department, something that Shakespeare might not have offered already. 'Medea' also asks for a strong female lead and might even pass the Bechdel test, although I don't know the text as well as I'd like so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
6. A Streetcar Named Desire
This has always been a strong contender for me. Strong, well written characters, offering a real chance for passionate young actors and actresses to give it their all in a play that is rife with tension, darkness and an intense negative depiction of human mentality and animalism. It would be an upper school production, sure, but I believe it worth a try.
7. Alan Bennett's Talking Heads
Often schools forget how inexpensive drama can be if you really want it to. Grotowski's 'Poor Theatre' can offer genuine solutions. But on a less avant-garde note, something like Alan Bennett's 'Talking Heads', or selected monologues from the collection, could really add to the theatrical richness of a school, without costing too much. The monologues are extremely well written and captivating, and if a director of drama felt they had students who would be up for the challenge, there is no reason why the monologues shouldn't be tackled. There's loads to choose from, and they are each clever and meaningful in their own way. I truly believe that a production, or various spread out productions of 'Talking Heads' would give the opportunity to have more lower-budgeted productions a lot more regularly, in order to give certain more enthusiastic students the boost they deserve.
Photo: Columbus State University