HE'S Southampton's answer to Shakespeare.

Two of city playwright Mark Wheeller's creations have been made GCSE set texts alongside work by The Bard himself.

Students starting their GCSE Drama course in September will be studying Missing Dan Nolan and Hard To Swallow as well as The Tempest, Michael Morpurgo's War Horse and Blood Brothers by Willy Russell.

"It's incredibly exciting," says Mark, relaxing at his home in Maybush.

"It's a real vote of confidence and just came as a complete shock, especially considering the range of things that could have been chosen."

Missing Dan Nolan, which has been chosen by awarding body OCR, is the story of missing Hamble teenager Dan, a former King Edward VI schoolboy. He failed to return home after a night-time fishing expedition with pals on the village waterfront on New Year's Day 2002 and then Oaklands Community School drama teacher Mark was keen to help the search effort.

"I was out walking our dog in Bitterne Park and I saw the posters on trees. As a teacher, you wonder whether this is one of your students. I didn't hear anything about Dan from that January until May when I was at Tesco in Bursledon and there was a stand saying Dan Nolan Missing. The family were trying to get coverage for their story. Milly Dowler had gone missing and all the nationals had picked up on that. They felt like they were being swept under the carpet.

"I offered to do a TV reconstruction with our youth theatre (Oaklands Youth Theatre), but Dan's parents felt it had got much bigger than that, they needed it to go national and asked me to write a play. We worked through that summer and had it on stage in October.

"As part of it, a missing poster was sent out to every school in Britain. It was a really big thing to do locally and, although we got some criticism, I felt like we were doing the right thing. We were a part of raising awareness.

"It was incredibly powerful. It was such a powerful and tragic story. It made everyone think there but for the grace of God go I."

The Daily Echo review at the time told of grown men weeping in the auditorium, a sight our reviewer had never before experienced.

Dan's parents Pauline and Greg Nolan later learned the tragic news that their missing son was dead after human remains washed up on a beach in Swanage.

Hard to Swallow was an earlier success after Mark's move to Southampton in the late 80s.

Members of OYT were performing the play, based on the book Catherine by Maureen Dunbar, on the Olivier stage at the Royal National Theatre after winning a national theatre challenge when news filtered through that Lord Olivier had passed away.

The play, which tells of the author's daughter's seven year battle with the anorexia which eventually killed her, has been turned into a TV film and is regularly performed by schools around the country.

Music lover Mark's talent for writing developed long before he arrived at the now defunct Lordshill comprehensive.

Surrounded by vinyls, he tells me his original plan was to write music.

"I wanted to be Ziggy Stardust," he laughs. "But I failed.

"None of the bands at school wanted to perform my songs, they just wanted to do covers."

A number of plays were written around the songs penned by the Bristol schoolboy and, when he ran out of people to write scripts for him, Mark took the plunge himself.

Too Much Punch For Judy, the true story of a drink driving young woman who killed her sister in a road accident, is now one of the most performed plays ever. It is about to be staged for the 6,000th time since it was written in 1987, in 16 different countries.

Married father of three and grandfather of one Mark is now working on another heart-breaking teenage tale.

I Love You Mum I Promise I Won’t Die, telling the tragic true story of Daniel Spargo-Mabbs from Croydon, will be premiered by OYT (now Oasis Youth Theatre) next week. A 15-strong cast will take to the Oasis Theatre stage for previews before heading to the celebrated performing arts institution the Brit School in Croydon for a premiere in front of Daniel's friends and family.

His parents commissioned the play following the death of their son, who died after taking ecstasy at an illegal rave in January 2014.

"The cast have worked so hard and it's been an incredibly moving experience having Daniel's family and friends join us.

"What better motivation can I give to do their very best than to bring the people whose story it is into the room to tell it.

"They are performing out of their skins to do it justice."

A second new play, Scratching the Surface, about self-harm, will also be premiered in Solihull next month.

Mark has been able to devote himself to his plays and the youth theatre since retiring from teaching at the school, now Oasis Academy Lord's Hill, last year.

The modest playwright puts much of his success down to his colleagues.

"It's nothing to do with ability, it's about stickability. I've surrounded myself with really talented people and been very lucky. I have this ability to stick at things and say this is possible. I've just got a determination to see things through.

"I've worked at a very supportive school, both Oaklands and then Oasis. People trusted me. If I'd been expected to produce a whole school production every year, you wouldn't have had something new and experimental.

"I've been really fortunate and it's paid off. What other school is going to have a set text in any curriculum? And we have two. Hopefully this (I Love You Mum I Promise I Won’t Die) will be another one. "

I Love You Mum I Promise I Won’t Die is at Oasis Theatre on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7pm.

Tickets are available by calling 023 8073 9797.