Guest post: Solace of the Road

“I’ve just had a moment of insight!”

It’s July 2014 and the studio space at Derby theatre, where we are leading Inset for English teachers, goes silent as Mike Kenny, playwright, gets to his feet in response to the final activity,

“I’ve been working with Siobhan Dowd’s novel, ‘Solace of the Road’ for a year” he exclaims “…and it’s only by seeing my script ‘on it’s feet’ here that I’ve just realised the symbolic link between Holly Hogan’s choice of the wig to disguise herself as her alter-ego ‘Solace’ and the past effect of her mothers’ abusive behaviour when she burnt Holly’s hair with the iron.

As writers of the teaching materials and as workshop leaders, seeing the teachers experience how analytical skills are developed by such approaches throughout the workshop is certainly rewarding. To then hear the playwright’s comments ahead of the publication of the new ‘Oxford Play-script ‘Solace of the Road’, further endorses the dramatic process. Mike’s active participation at this, the second whole-day professional development event in Derbyshire, is a testament to the commitment of all the partners in this ambitious project. The partners include Derby Theatre, Derbyshire County Council who are providing free copies of the scripts to all participating Derbyshire schools, Oxford University Press, Derby University, schools, educators and teachers and the project will culminate in Derby Theatre’s professional production of the play in February/March 2015.

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It is over a year ago that we first met with all those involved at the theatre in Derby, but our journey on Solace’s road has been much longer. Throughout the past fifteen years we have been developing work around quality plays for young people by applying a rigorous criteria to the choice of texts for adaptation. Once selected we have produced detailed schemes of work published alongside the scripts that focus on critical analytical skills and the raising of standards in English which we deliver (or what Mike Kenny would call; ‘put on their feet’) through practical training which deliberately focuses on key aspects of the learning process.

It is this process that brought us to Derby Theatre and to our recommendation of Siobhan Dowd’s outstanding novel. It is also this process that has led to important partnerships with writers, publishers, theatres, educators and with directors like Sarah Brigham who is bringing ‘Solace’ to the Stage in Derby with the aim of touring it nationally. Sarah shares our vision of literature and theatre, which refuses to patronize or stereotype young people and is open about the challenges, which draw her to theatre for a younger audience.

‘What drew me to this novel immediately was of course Holly.  It seemed to me that Siobhan Dowd had written a really rounded character – often it seems to me that in drama, young people are portrayed in a somewhat two dimensional sense but here was a complex character with passion, anger, sadness, laughter – a girl who could really speak to an audience of adults and young people and be engaging and enlightening.’

As we all eagerly wait for the final published script in the next few weeks, we are aware that the impact that ‘Solace of the Road’ can have on young people’s understanding of their own experiences and/or those of Children in Care, means that it deserves the widest audience and significance within the school curriculum. The introduction of a quality new text and scheme of work will enable young people to analyse writers’ complex techniques and skills, explore the different contributions made by novelists, playwrights and directors and develop their confidence as writers, transferring skills to new texts, writing or assessments.

Our road will continue, aiming to provide young people with high quality live theatre directly linked to their learning outcomes and the curriculum, embedding practices in the school curriculum and establishing links with schools, theatres and communities that are sustainable over long periods of time.

As the workshop draws to a close and evaluations are completed, we pack up our resources and head for a teashop to read through them. Scanning through each one, we are delighted that the teachers have invested in the work and commit to developing these practices in their classrooms. Stopping at one, which reflects that “…if these techniques are used regularly, students can develop analytical skills and dramatic techniques and progress throughout school”, we allow ourselves a mouthful of tea and a slice of cream cake, knowing that the journey to production, publication and teaching is on the right track.

Ruth Moore and Paul Bunyan

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