Richard Griffiths (2001), Hodder Murray, ISBN: 0340799560, 96 pp.
Griffiths’ book, Reading Drama, contains all the information a drama teacher wants to know but has difficulty acquiring. It provides a basic foundation of drama elements suitable for both students and teachers offering drama studies at the A-level. The book’s five chapters cover topics such as the properties of drama as well as its background, skills and interpretations.
Griffiths is a guru of drama practice-pedagogy. He can write about the historical development of drama while providing practical explanations on devising a play and doing stagecraft.
There are plenty of diagrams, pictures and sketches available in the book. The layout of each chapter is cleverly adapted for practical understanding and reads like a notebook of a drama facilitator. Perhaps the difference is that it contains more facts such as the ontology of the drama genre and the metaphysics of creation.
Each chapter begins with the facts of a particular topic, followed by suggested activities and commentary. The order of the layout changes creatively, depending on the chapter, and original excerpts of authentic drama material are found throughout the content. Some chapters also include cognitive or pictorial organisers such as mind maps and T-charts, which serve as helpful tools for learning.
The notion of verisimilitude, objective emotional impact, genre, and other drama vocabulary are convincingly introduced through this kind of structural layout. For example, the idea of a dramatic irony is fleshed out in one chapter’s commentary, following excerpts of a dialogue between Oedipus and a prophet Tiresias from the story of Oedipus. This helps students understand the dramatic irony as a situation where the audience knows something that the character does not. Without this structure, it would probably be difficult for a new student to appreciate this concept.
At times, teachers are too focused on using accurate terminology and forget to provide the context of these terms. As a result, students may fail to grasp the foundation of the subject from which these terms come from. The last thing Drama students need is a linguistic exercise – or worse – a memorisation task. In his book, Griffiths intelligently devises a way to make reading about drama loaded with energy, waiting to burst into the classroom. A successful drama lesson is one where students are excited to see how their understanding leaps into action and transactions.
The book also emphasises the fact that drama is only complete in the performance. Of course, this is important for theatre in education or the use of theatre to encourage learning, where devising and improvisation is part of the norm.
Good drama is good entertainment. In contrast to popular entertainment, it can also be a joint creative effort among the students in the class. This communal effect is similar to the origins of Chinese opera, where everyone chipped in to keep the performance going (Levine, 1995). In contrast, popular culture has a more individualistic process and its apathy to communal bonding and family values is partly due to the short-sightedness of the materialistic world.
This book deserves to be on the shelves of all school libraries and is important for the learning and performing processes of students and teachers alike. Griffiths writes dramatic thoughts on major works such as Greek tragedy, Shakespeare and Beckett. He shows that there is no such thing as a “standard performance” and each representation is a process of culling and re-inventing ideas. Therefore, his book encourages action in the practice of drama, which leads to the understanding and appreciation of drama study.
Levine, W. (1995). The tradition of Beijing opera: The development of Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution. Retrieved February 18, 2005, from http://www.beijing-opera.com