Judy Meewezen on European plays about childhood. Wherever I go in Europe, there seems to be a clearer sense of childhood than here," says John Retallack, much travelled director of the Oxford Stage Company.
His newest venture for young people exploits the richer vein of writing that is available across the Channel and brings, to start with, three new plays to Britain, all of which have been extremely successful over there.
To launch Making the Future Retallack invited 3,000 teachers to London's Young Vic to see Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack stage a reading of one of the plays, Mirad, a Boy from Bosnia.
The play, by the Dutch writer Ad de Bond, has had more than 26 productions in Europe and the English translation will soon be a GCSE text. A combination of dialogue and flashback, Mirad is a brilliant evocation of a 14-year-old refugee's journey to Holland. The story and the language are so strong, according to Jeremy Irons in his subsequent address to the audience, that anyone could perform the play and it would be moving.
Other actors, fresh from tours in Holland, reported stunning responses from young people, not only because of the story's topicality, but also because the play intensifies and individualizes passages to adulthood. Children, it was felt, can and should address the issues involved in a language that is their own.
Two other plays, Grace, by Ignace Cornelissen (Belgium) and Hitler's Childhood by Niklas Radstrom (Sweden) will also form part of an autumn tour and accompanying activities.
The Oxford Stage Company, winners of last year's Vivien Duffield theatre award, are doing the programme as part of a "wholehearted attempt to improve the quality of theatre available to young people". Certainly the launch convinced me that if enthusiasm and quality of writing alone can stimulate the much longed for boom, Retallack has cracked it.
Mirad, a Boy from Bosnia by Ad de Bont, translated by Marian Buijs is published by Longman. There will be an autumn tour preceded by free staged readings for teachers at Oxford on June 16, Bury St Edmunds, June 19, Winchester, June 20, Warwick, June 21, Stirling, June 23. Details: 01865 245781.