Eight Plays for Young People
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
David E. Kemp is a drama professor at Queen’s University and the
author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.
Eight Plays for Young People, edited by Joyce Doolittle, is a collection of plays written for school-aged audiences up to their early teens. The plays are written by contemporary authors who live in the prairie provinces of Canada; together they cover diverse subjects in a variety of styles. All the plays have been tested on stage, and in many ways their content offers a unique look at the problems, hopes, and dreams of young people.
One of the perennial structures of theatre for young audiences is the journey. Two of the plays in this collection, “Tikta liktak” by Brian Paisley and “Cornelius Dragon” by Jan Truss, employ this device. “Tikta liktak” uses an Inuit legend as its content, and through this story the hero’s struggle is dramatised. Courage, resourcefulness, and empathy with the world of nature are qualities that save the hero from death. “Cornelius Dragon” deals with the contemporary journey made by a runaway immigrant child on the edge of an uncomfortable adolescence, but the play also has many fantasy elements.
Conflicts within families figure prominently in several of the plays. In “The Other Side of the Pole,” by Marnie and Stephen Heatley and Edward Connell, both the protagonists have difficulties with their parents, although the play itself is essentially a Christmas family fantasy. In “Vandal,” by William Horrocks, the hero’s portrayal of his father triggers the play’s climactic scene. “Vandal” also shows the insidious and powerful forces outside the control of young people which nonetheless exert enormous pressure on their lives. In Alf Silver’s play, “More of a Family,” this predominant socio-family theme is again modified by excursions into fantasy.
Two plays draw directly upon historical events. “Doctor Bardo’s Pioneers,” by Rick McNair, is based upon the phenomenon of the “Barnardo Boys” — orphans (both boys and girls) who were taken off the streets of slums in England, put into orphanages, and then sent to Canada to work for their “keep.” “The Day Jake Made Her Rain,” by W.O. Mitchell, is the quintessential prairie play. It deals with the land, the Depression, the small town, the hired hand — and the rainmaker. Finally, “Melody and the Bag Lady,” by Rex Deverell, is devoted to the exploration of a specific social problem — namely vagrants and eccentrics and how we learn to live with them.
Canada is rapidly acquiring a significant body of plays written specifically for young people. This excellent collection presents a cross section of such contemporary drama. Joyce Doolittle’s introduction is both insightful and historically revealing, while her selection of plays could hardly be bettered.