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Exploring Play Texts: The Curious Incident

Date Posted: 13/01/2015

Laura Yandell is the head of drama at a secondary school in London and explains how West End hit, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time can work for GCSE Unit 2 (Edexcel).

As a teacher, each year the pressure seems to get greater with frequent changes to the OFSTED criteria, the forthcoming educational reforms and the constant pressure from schools to get those top grades.

As a Drama teacher I have always relished the freedom we have over our curriculum, but this can also come with a pressure to make sure we choose the right material for our students to allow them to achieve their full potential and hit the specification criteria.

Over the past few years I have stayed loyal to the Edexcel specification, although I know there has been a lapse of faith for some due to the moderating and marking within the subject of Drama. I believe strongly that this is another reason to choose the right material for our students which allows for the flexibility to access those top grades.

For Unit 2 (Exploring Play Texts) like most Drama teachers I have tried and tested a range of plays catering for a variety of students. This year I have decided to use The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

Not only is this very current, with most of my students having read the book, it is also one of the most popular productions in the West End with fabulous direction by Marianne Elliot and movement by Frantic Assembly.

When watching the show for the first time I left the theatre excited; not only by the acting, direction and movement, but by the technical aspects of the play. I felt inspired to write a scheme of work based on this production and felt confident that it would stimulate my GCSE students, not only for the practical exploration, but also for the theatre review which is worth ten per cent of the unit.

As Frantic Assembly directed the movement in the show it was a fantastic opportunity to explore it as a practitioner; to initially introduce this unit of work and to allow for more depth to the subsequent practical and written work from the students.

Creating a scheme of work

I started by writing a scheme of work which would introduce Year 11 to some of the exercises Frantic Assembly use when devising theatre, and which they may be able to recognise when watching the production of Curious Incident.

I used The Frantic Assembly Book Of Devising Theatre to write this which has a thorough step-by-step guide to hundreds of exercises used during their rehearsals for a variety of their shows.

We looked at:

•    Push Hands
•    Clear the space
•    Lovesong Picking Oose
•    Select/Delete
•    Quad
•    Eye Bounce
•    Eye Stealing
•    Get Ready
•    Chair Duets
•    Round/By/Through
•    Hymn Hands

After this initial introduction I took the students to go and see the production of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre. The students, who were initially worried about having to produce a 2,000 word evaluation came away excited to write about the different mediums, elements and explorative strategies used within the play.

After discussing Curious Incident in the lesson after the show they actually all realised that they had too much to write about - giving them a boost of confidence.

To allow for detail and to access the higher marks I decided the students would structure their evaluations focusing on five key moments from the production which would include details of all the production’s elements to form five main paragraphs.

In previous years I have asked the students to analyse each production elements, but this particular play is bursting with so many values I think just focusing on one element per paragraph could be limiting. After the production the students were also confidently able to identify Frantic Assembly’s movement within the show and different techniques which may have been used, adding further depth to their writing and practical work later on.

The practical elements

After writing their theatre evaluation we then moved on to the practical element of the unit. I know all schools deliver this in a variety of ways, but the requirement is that there are six hours of practical work.

Again, like most Drama teachers I have experimented with different ways of delivering the practical work and my preference is three hours of practical followed by two lessons of writing under controlled conditions repeated over two days.

There are so many different scenes to choose from to explore in Curious Incident that as a teacher you are spoilt for choice. In the specification it says to cover at least four explorative strategies, two mediums and to create opportunities for use of the elements of Drama.

To gain top marks I believe you need to cover as many as possible and this play text certainly allows you to do just that. Here is what I have done with my students:

Session 1: Still Images and Thought Tracking
Using pages 75 -76 (Christopher arrives in London and first sees his Mother and Roger).

Session 2: Cross Cutting and Voice
Using pages 55 - 56 (Station announcement and Christopher meets the policeman).

Session 3: Contrasts Of Mood, Style and Form
Using pages 60 - 62 (Christopher’s journey on the train).

Session 4: Movement, Mime and Gesture
Using page 70 (When Christopher is having difficulties in the tube system).

Session 5: Space And Levels, Climax and Anti-Climax
Using pages 70 - 71 (When Christopher loses Toby the rat on the tube platform).

Session 6: Hot Seating and Characterisation
Using pages 77 - 78 (Christopher telling his mother that he was told she was dead by his father).

This text has been my favourite play so far to explore for GCSE and as long as it remains in the West End I will continue to use it for the Unit 2 controlled assessment.

My students have thoroughly enjoyed this unit and have not only produced stunning practical work, which was heavily influenced by the actual performance itself and Frantic Assembly, but it has given them so much to write about allowing them to write passionately and in depth.

As a Drama teacher, if you haven’t seen The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time I strongly recommend that you do; it will inspire you and is a great example of how an educational visit can enrich the work undertaken by students.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is currently booking until October 2015. The National Theatre also has an extensive learning programme for schools. The production will also be touring nationwide throughout 2015.

For more information visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.

Photo credit: Brinkhoff Mögenburg.

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