Education Letter: Theatre of the absurd

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The Independent Online
SUSAN GREGORY'S article on the unfairness of the marking of English tests ("Top marks for mediocrity in English", EDUCATION 5 November) reminded me of an illuminating experience I had two years ago.

Because I was giving a class on Stanislavsky to 20 drama teachers, I attended their previous session which was designed to give them an insight into how A-level drama papers were marked.

The senior examiner giving the helpful talk was unaware that I was not a teacher, and I joined in reading a sample of students' answers to two questions. Having been pleased to hear that the curriculum had shifted from old-fashioned literary values to an emphasis on the practical art of staging a play, I was dismayed that, whereas the teachers, who all apparently understood the examination game, correctly guessed which students had passed , I was the only one to get it wrong.

There was for example a question on staging the wood-cutters' scene in Blood Wedding. The student who was marked highest gave an elaborate description of a new concept of the scene. Another student confined himself to justifying following Lorca's surreal instructions as closely as possible and not laying other concepts on top of them.

He was marked down for lack of imagination. Theatre people I respect, and Lorca's nephew, the guardian of his work, would, I'm sure, have agreed with the student who received the lower marks.

In another section the students had to answer various questions on a previously unseen Alan Ayckbourn scene. The first question shocked me. It was to the effect of "How would you make this scene funny?"

That is precisely the very worst question a director or an actor should ask in approaching a dramatic text, and I know that is something Alan Ayckbourn would agree with.

It is the first step on the highroad to bad acting; and it was astonishing that it was asked on a course where Stanislavski is studied.

The other selection of theatre experts that the students could choose from were Brecht, Artaud and Craig. On a course that was meant to emphasise the practical, I would have thought that it would have been better to have dropped the latter two and dare to choose living and more relevant practitioners.

What about choosing such as Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood, frequently acclaimed still as the two most innovative British directors since the Second World War?


Associate Director,

Theatre Royal Stratford East

London, E15