3.1 Understanding drama

This subject content is assessed in a written exam.

See Component 1: Understanding drama for details.

3.1.1 Knowledge and understanding

Students must develop knowledge and understanding of the following:

Content Details
Characteristics of performance text(s) and dramatic work(s)
  • genre
  • structure
  • character
  • form
  • style
  • language
  • sub-text
  • character motivation and interaction
  • the creation of mood and atmosphere
  • the development of pace and rhythm
  • dramatic climax
  • stage directions
  • the practical demands of the text.
Social, cultural and historical contexts
  • the social, cultural and historical context in which the performance texts studied are set
  • the theatrical conventions of the period in which the performance texts studied were created.
How meaning is interpreted and communicated
  • performance conventions
  • use of performance space and spatial relationships on stage
  • actor and audience configuration
  • relationships between performers and audience
  • design fundamentals such as scale, shape, colour, texture
  • the design of props and the design of sets such as revolves, trucks, projection, multimedia, pyrotechnics, smoke machines, flying
  • the design of costume including hair and make-up
  • the design of lighting such as direction, colour, intensity, special effects
  • the design of sound such as direction, amplification, music, sound effects both live and recorded
  • performers' vocal interpretation of character such as accent, volume, pitch, timing, pace, intonation, phrasing, emotional range, delivery of lines
  • performers' physical interpretation of character such as build, age, height, facial features, movement, posture, gesture, facial expression.
Drama and theatre terminology and how to use it appropriately
  • stage positioning:
    • upstage (left, right, centre)
    • downstage (left, right, centre)
    • centre stage.
  • staging configuration:
    • theatre in the round
    • proscenium arch
    • thrust stage
    • traverse
    • end on staging
    • promenade.

Students should have a general understanding of the implications of the above stage configurations on the use of the performance space.

The roles and responsibilities of theatre makers in contemporary professional practice


  • playwright
  • performer
  • understudy
  • lighting designer
  • sound designer
  • set designer
  • costume designer
  • puppet designer
  • technician
  • director
  • stage manager
  • theatre manager.

Knowledge and understanding should cover:

  • the activities each may undertake on a day-to-day basis
  • the aspect(s) of the rehearsal/performance process each is accountable for (their contribution to the whole production being a success).

3.1.2 Area of study 1 – Set play

Students must study and explore practically one set play chosen from the list below.

Specific editions are prescribed for these plays.

Playwright Set play
Arthur Miller The Crucible (Methuen Student Editions – ISBN: 978-1408108390)
Willy Russell Blood Brothers (Methuen Modern Classics – ISBN: 978-0413767707)
John Buchan/Patrick Barlow The 39 Steps (Samuel French – ISBN: 978-0573114403)
Carl Grose (Kneehigh Theatre) Hansel and Gretel (Oberon Books – ISBN: 978-1849430579)
Malorie Blackman/Dominic Cooke Noughts and Crosses (Nick Hearn Modern Plays – ISBN: 978-1854599391)
William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream (Penguin Shakespeare Edition – ISBN: 978-0141012605)
Study should be targeted at:
  • developing knowledge and understanding (as described in Knowledge and understanding) of the characteristics and context of the whole play
  • exploring ideas for how the play may be interpreted practically.

The exam will include one compulsory short answer question for all students linking design and context and/or theatrical conventions. Students don't need to have gained practical experience of design to answer this question.

One part of Section B will offer students the choice of answering as a performer or designer (lighting, sound, set, costume, puppets).

Students must not answer Section B and Section C of the exam on the same play ie the live production seen cannot be their set play.

3.1.3 Area of study 2 – Live theatre production

Students must learn how to analyse and evaluate the work of live theatre makers (performers and/or designers). Students should aim to understand productions in terms of the relevant content listed in Knowledge and understanding and in addition consider:

  • how the play has been interpreted in the production seen and what messages the company might be trying to communicate
  • the skills demonstrated by the performers and how successfully meaning was communicated to the audience by the performers
  • the design skills demonstrated in the production and how successfully meaning was communicated to the audience through design.

To aid their analysis students should carry out background research into the production. They may read the play and reviews of the production and should develop an understanding of:

  • the plot and characters
  • specific features or hallmarks of the style/genre of the production
  • the context of the play/production.

Live theatre could include:

  • plays
  • physical theatre
  • theatre in education
  • musical theatre.

Productions may be professional or amateur (not peer).

For the purposes of this specification live theatre can include digital recordings or streamed productions. The original production must have been performed live by the company no earlier than five years before the commencement of the student’s course.

Students certificating after 1 January 2019 are required to experience live performance, where they are a member of the audience in the same performance space as the performers. This may be a professional or amateur, but not a peer, performance. Schools/colleges will be required to submit a ‘Live Performance Statement’, which will be made available on the AQA website, to confirm that all students have completed this requirement. Failure to provide this statement prior to 1 May in the year of certification will be treated as maladministration. Students may still complete the ‘Live theatre production’ section of the exam paper referring to digital recordings or streamed productions.

Teachers must ensure that students see at least one performance which will enable them to access the exam questions and mark scheme in full. We recommend that this performance is a minimum of 50 minutes in duration (excluding any intervals or breaks) and that it includes at least two actors, dialogue and a range of production values (lighting, sound, set and costume).

Students must not answer Section B and Section C of the exam on the same play ie the live production seen cannot be their set play.