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Double betrayal of childhood

Brian Hayward talks to three theatre directors about their approaches to children and subjects which were once taboo

Strangely, adults suffer from childhood amnesia, believes Nicola McCartney, director of LookOut theatre company. "We totally forget what it was like to be children. We can't understand them, so we fantasise about them, think them little angels or little devils; either way we think they're a nuisance, a burden."

The Glasgow-based company recently ended its tour of Little Ones, a double bill of new plays about the wilder side of childhood commissioned by Ms McCartney.

One, Skunk Hour by Robert Fraser, is an intriguing drama game played by an embittered child psychologist at the expense of the parents of a violent 10-year-old who is being held in police custody for stabbing a friend with a screwdriver.

The psychologist argues that the mother is to blame because she offers unconditional love; the father's mistake is to want to be his son's best mate.

The slightly-crazed psychologist interprts the boy's apparently spontaneous irruption into violence as a sign for our times, like the child soldiers of central Africa.

"Childhood's number is up," is his conclusion. "The world has no time for children."

Ms McCartney herself directs Tongues by Isabel Wright (who is now writing theatre in education for Boilerhouse theatre company). This is a delicate play about sexual abuse of a girl by her father, and the writing is like the abuse, distanced and yet insidiously involving. By showing us the child and the young woman she becomes, the play insists on the lasting damage of serious abuse.

In conversation, Ms McCartney is equally eloquent on the widespread harm caused by the general inadequacy of adult behaviour towards our children.

"In Britain we seem unable to take responsibility for our children's emotions," she says. "I have this friend who, when she was pregnant, moved to Spain so that she could live in a society where they brought up children properly."

LookOut, tel 0141 353 0146

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