Oxford Playscripts series (Jane Eyre, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Canterbury Tales, each £5.30); Nelson Dramascripts series (including Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Three Classic Thrillers, each £5.95); Faber, New Connections 99: New Plays for Young People (£14.99).
Finding plays that work in class has always been a challenge for English and Drama teachers. The choice used to be creaky old stalwarts like Hobson's Choice or new plays deriving from television. But these could make very dodgy reading: teenage pregnancies and clashes with authority always seemed obligatory. All in the name of teenage relevance.
The national curriculum has changed all that and the latest trend in drama publishing is illustrated in the Oxford and Nelson series. Rather than original works of drama, these are adaptations, mostly of pre-1900 novels.
Students therefore encounter some of the great storylines and characters of our history. What they less surely meet is the language of the period. Here's Jane Eyre being hit by the bullying John Reed:
That's for your impudence in answering back to Mamma and for the look you've had in your eyes for the last two minutes, you rat!
That is for your sneaky way of getting behind the curtains, and for the look you had in your eyes, you rat!
The Oxford adaptation uses Charlotte Bronte's language almost word-for-word. Nelson updates the idiom: impudence becomes "sneaky way" and we lose the reference to Mamma.
Similarly, both series provide a plethora of activities for discussion and writing, many of which are excellent. But what about this task from the Nelson version: is asking pupils to imagine they are Jane and "write a letter to an Agony Aunt explaining your problems" developing an understanding of character and context, or trivialising the text?
The Oxford series places more emphasis on understanding the genre of the novel - for example, the traditions of the Gothic Novel and using questions about Frankenstein and the X Files to explore the human need for horror.
I was impressed by both series. Nelson has more supporting material for pupils on the page. Oxford pays closer attention to language and historical context.
One worry in reviewing these texts is that pupils' experience of Drama in the classroom may, at KS3, be limited to adaptations. Where's the new writing?
Faber's New Connections collects together ten new plays specially commissioned for an ambitious theatre project across the UK and Ireland. There are sure-fire hits by Alan Ayckbourn (an ingenious, profound exploration of technology and disability) and Dario Fo.
Other plays make terrific reading - such as Sharman Macdonald's After Juliet which picks up Shakespeare's story where he left off, updating it to a contemporary idiom. However, the helpful editorial note - "should fuck be a pain and a trouble, please change it to feck or a rhythmic equivalent" - suggests that the play won't often be performed to the Governing Body.
That's the kind of book it is - a really vibrant, challenging collection of new plays which every Drama Department will want for its GCSE and A-level students. The price will preclude most of us from buying a set, but it's an important reminder that drama in schools is about new writing as well as worthy encounters with the classics.