Looking for JJ
Edexcel A2’s Unit 3 requires that students create an original piece of theatre, in groups of between three and six, to last no longer than 30 minutes (bigger groups) and no less than 15 minutes (smaller groups). Students can use an existing play script – cutting, reordering and altering it to suit their own narrative purposes – or work with a stimulus theme to create a new storyline and play.
This scheme takes as its stimulus Anne Cassidy’s gripping novel Looking for JJ, and examines the issue of children who kill. This disturbing topic never goes away, whether it’s high school massacres in the US or the horrific attack on two nine and ten year old boys in Doncaster in 2009. Recently Jon Venables’ return to custody has brought the issue back into the newspapers. This can be a contentious and complex theme for students to study, and for our technologically adept generation of students, there is a wealth of information and research available to them online. This is a boon but also a drawback – much of the material online about this topic is distressing and X-rated, and it’s important that students are careful not to expose themselves to material that is going to upset them. The topic can also be unsuitable for certain vulnerable individuals, and it is obviously down to you to check that the themes and content are right for your students. I work in a school rather than a sixth form college, and I run this title and its themes past parents before beginning the scheme, which may seem needlessly cautious when the students are all on the cusp of adulthood, but does ensure that everybody knows exactly what they’re getting into.
The novel Looking for JJ is beautifully written and very dramatic. It lends itself well to unit 3 work, because its structure is interesting – the eponymous JJ looks back at the circumstances that led her to her present, post-prison life with a new identity as ‘Alice’. Two plots in two time-frames run side by side as ‘Alice’ tries to escape discovery by the Press (and accompanying vigilante lynch mobs) while layers of JJ’s story and why she did what she did are gradually revealed.
I have used my original version of this scheme twice, once with a very able, gifted and talented A2 group, and once with a much more average ability group. In both cases the results were outstanding in terms of final performance and written evidence.
- Create an original piece of drama for a target audience
- Make effective practical use of learning from the AS year
- Work cooperatively, creatively and collaboratively as part of a group
- Apply background research and practical exploration to develop the work
- Synthesise and apply knowledge of dramatic forms and genres
- Experiment with using stylistic forms and techniques for effect
- Perform to an identified audience