Exam Board Adds New Plays by Writers of Color to GCSE and A-Level Theater | Theater and dance

Drama students will have the opportunity to study a more diverse curriculum at GCSE and A-Level with the addition of four new plays by writers of color.

The AQA, England’s largest examination board, says the texts are part of a series of measures to update and revise its qualifications to ensure they better reflect the diversity of students and their teachers.

The new GCSE-level plays will include a thriller by Francis Turnly which is based on the true story of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by the North Korean regime in the 1970s and 80s.

Tanika Gupta’s Empress, which tells the story of Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant Abdul Karim and an Indian nanny called Rani Das, will also be added to the GCSE curriculum.

New A-level texts include a reworking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters by Inua Ellams, set in 1960s Nigeria, and Danai Gurira’s The Convert, which tells the story of a young Shona girl who flees an arranged marriage in converting to Christianity.

The Exam Board’s dramatic GCSE qualification already includes the well-known stage adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, which overturns traditional racial stereotypes and shows racial prejudice from a different angle.

The texts will be available for study from September, with examinations taking place two years later. The AQA hosts free online training events to give teachers a practical toolkit to prepare for and teach new texts.

The review board will also provide information about each text’s social and historical background and cover topics such as stereotypes, accents and casting. It will also examine how to teach the texts currently in the curriculum, with a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Sandra Allan, Curriculum Manager for Creative Arts at AQA, said: “We chose these pieces because of the rich opportunities they will provide our teachers and students to explore a wide range of themes, including racial and social issues.

“However, we know that simply adding new pieces will not in itself bring more diversity to the program, so we can’t stop there. We need to make it as easy as possible for schools to start teaching these pieces.

“That’s why we’re providing lots of new materials and resources and we really hope teachers and students enjoy these new additions to our drama qualifications.”

The AQA isn’t alone in updating its curriculum. Last year, the OCR examination board presented a range of new work, including Bernardine Evaristo’s award-winning 2019 Booker novel Girl, Woman, Other to its GCSE and A-level English literature courses.

It follows criticism that the curriculum in England is not inclusive enough and needs to adapt to better reflect modern society. Research by education charity Teach First, published in 2020, found that pupils could complete their GCSEs and leave secondary school in England without studying a novel or play by a non-white author.

The four new pieces

The big wave by Francis Turnley shines the spotlight on North Korea’s abduction of young Japanese citizens. Spanning from 1979 to 2003, the play covers the mysterious disappearance of a 17-year-old Japanese schoolgirl, Hanako. It echoes the real-life experience of Megumi Yokota, who was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in 1977.

The Empress by Tanika Gupta begins in 1887 when Rani Das and Abdul Karim arrive at Tilbury Docks in London from India. The play tells the true story of Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant and Hindi teacher, Karim, as well as the experiences of Indian ayahs like Das who came to Britain in the 19th century and were treated as second-class citizens.

The convert by Danai Gurira is the story of a young Shona girl named Jekesai who escapes an arranged marriage by converting to Christianity and becoming a servant and student of an African evangelical. Inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the Zimbabwean-American playwright’s play tackles issues of racial, political and religious identity and assimilation, exploring the cultural and religious collisions caused by British colonialism.

Three sisters by Inua Ellams sees Chekhov’s iconic characters relocated from provincial Russia to 1960s Owerri in Nigeria where the country is on the brink of the Nigerian Civil War, a conflict that saw the eastern region of Nigeria temporarily declare a new republic called Biafra. The Guardian’s Michael Billington described the play as “a startlingly vivid account of civil war and a direct attack on British neo-colonialism”.