Truth be told, I sat my GCSE exams longer ago than I care to admit; indeed, my current students look at me with a mixture of pity and disbelief when they demand to know how many A* grades I got, only to be told that they didn't even exist in my day (obviously, if they had, I would have got loads, several hundred probably.)
Still, it doesn't really seem to matter how many years ago you sat your English Literature GCSE - the texts appear to have not changed in the slightest. I did Pygmalion, To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth and An Inspector Calls, amongst other texts, although I did consider myself a pretty original and forward-thinking teen when I selected The Catcher in the Rye as my choice of text for my independent coursework; if only I had known then how my teachers were probably rolling their eyes behind my back, thinking "just smile and nod, and let her think that no other teenager in the history of the world has ever discovered this book."
The one text I didn't do at GCSE that seems to have become more or less compulsory these days is John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I suspect it has become ubiquitous largely due to its short, student-friendly length, the fact that it allows teachers to ramble knowledgeably about The American Dream, and - let's face it - it's a pretty good story. George and Lenny are farmworkers in 1930s America, forced to travel the country in search of work and therefore never able to put down any permanent roots. Their dream is to have their own little piece of land, where they can live and work; in the meantime, all they have is each other. George is sharp, always looking out for Lennie, who doesn't always understand his own strength, or what constitutes appropriate behaviour. I won't spoil the ending, but it may be a good idea to have a tissue or two handy.
Now the stage version of this ever-popular tale is coming to Manchester's Contact Theatre. Mike Kenny's adaptation will premiere here between 16th and 19th February 2011 before touring the country, and as the theatre company behind the production is Mind the Gap, it promises to be well worth a look. For the uninitiated, Mind the Gap is the leading theatre company in the UK working with learning disabled actors; remarkably, the production is the first stage adaptation to feature an actor with learning disabilities in the role of Lennie. The play has run three times before to consistently positive reviews, so do your best to catch it before it moves on.
Tickets and further details are available from the Contact website, and you can read more about Mind the Gap at their own site. Tickets are very reasonably priced at £12 (£7 concessions). Just one word of warning: last time I went to see a "set text" - Othello - at the theatre, the place was FULL of students. Rather horrifically, some of them were mine. And whilst their behaviour was without fault, it does make you feel so very very old when you have to queue for your ice-cream amongst such youth.
- Contact, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6JA; tel 0161 274 0600.