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Alan Durband taught Brian Jacques English when he was a student at St. John's; over the course of his life, Durband was recognized for his enthusiasm towards writing and English literature.
He simplified multiple works of Shakespeare into more modern versions for students, and a headmistress actually banned his version of Romeo and Juliet because young women could understand the contents of play.
Durband's passion lead to the development of Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, where Brian Jacques later became Resident Playwright in the early 1980s. While working as a teacher and for the Everyman, Durband wrote textbooks and compiled collections of plays.
And wouldn't you know it, one of these series of plays, Wordplays 1, includes a contribution from Brian Jacques, along with five other writers.
First published in 1982, Wordplays 1 is one out of two collections that consists of one-act plays commissioned and edited by Alan Durband. The plays are supposed to be geared towards younger readers, approximately age 11 or older. The book comes in paperback form.
Brian Jacques' contribution is entitled The Awful Billy Smiff. It is 19 pages in length, and revolves around a new teacher's experience with a rowdy student. Interestingly, it is one of three plays in the book that requires special permission to be publicly performed.
What was particularly surprising is that the name of the new teacher in the play is Liz Crampton, which is also the name of Brian Jacques' wife. It makes me wonder about what inspired the play itself, and if there is any truth to it. I feel this is quite likely.
The play takes place in two settings; the first of which is a teacher's lounge where the character of Miss Crampton learns that she is the recipient of the class which includes Billy Smiff, a 10-year-old boy who is rude, obnoxious, and a wiseacre.
The second setting is the classroom itself, where Miss Crampton vows to not tolerate Billy's antics. During the teaching session, Billy continually makes outbursts and smart aleck comments, and Miss Crampton attempts to discipline him and continue teaching the interested students a lesson on morals.
Eventually, however, Miss Crampton is forced to allow Billy to participate in the lesson, which culminates in her learning a lesson of her own at the end of it all.
While Durband recommends the plays for a younger audience in his introduction, The Awful Billy Smiff contains a reference to drugs; a teacher is so happy that he will not have to worry about Billy Smiff he announces that he feels like using them, however I can see how this line would be amusing if the person performing it were younger and the audience was a group of parents.
The play is successful in providing entertainment, and another gem from the yarnspinner himself.
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