Domestic violence takes to the stage;Arts;Theatre

19th November 1999 at 00:00
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD. Baldy Bane Theatre Company. Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow. November 9. Brian Hayward watches a radical production that is part of a Glasgow programme to change young attitudes.

A startling statistic to emerge from a research project into young people's attitudes to violence last year, was that half the youngsters questioned considered violence and sexual abuse against young women to be acceptable under certain circumstances. Perhaps even more alarming, a third of young women in the survey agreed.

These and other findings emerged from the Three City project, carried out in Manchester, Fife and Glasgow where, with a commitment to zero tolerance on violence, the education department is responding with a programme that aims to change the attitudes of a whole generation.

Aware of the power of educational drama as a medium for changing awareness, the city council commissioned Baldy Bane, Glasgow's educational theatre company, to create a play that could act as a catalyst to the debate. Garry Stewart has written To Have and to Hold, an hour-long series of vignettes of life as the young live it, intended to open up for examination the issue of violence in personal relationships.

As guidance adviser for Glasgow, Loretta Scott is responsible for articulating the city council's commitment in this area. She says the company was "absolutely marvellous" in the way it worked with the council, re-writing to match the programme.

The play was the main event to launch a day of workshops on November 9 in the Mitchell Theatre for 180 senior pupils from Glasgow's secondary schools, introduced by Jim Coleman, depute leader of the council and social inclusion convenor for Glasgow. He told the audience that "Glasgow has a problem and it's no' the buildings, it's the people". He admitted that it may be too late to modify opinions of older citizens, but the audience were the citizens of the future, and they could change, and change others.

Garry Stewart's play eavesdrops on conversations in the nursery, school, home and nightclub. It marks out abusive relationships, from biting off the heads of your pal's jelly babies, to vindictive bullying in the playground and the home, to wife-beating and, for the schoolgirl band singer, rape. His pared-down, non-judgmental text evokes a broad range of response and the audience feel they can react honestly and instinctively.

However, you have to watch and listen warily. Between scenes in the playground, dining room and by the dance floor, Stewart makes extraordinary use of interpolations by a Bernard Manning-style comedian, whose jokes become more sexist and abusive, until he narrates some abuse the audience has watched earlier.

Performing sensitive material at half-past nine in the morning is not easy, but the Baldy Bane cast of five play with great delicacy and skill. Their respect for the material sets the right tone, and, after the play, when reporters were asked to leave, the young audience participated in workshops on domestic abuse, sexual assault and violence, run by agencies including the council's own education, community and mental health services, Women's Aid groups, Rape Crisis and Strathclyde Police.

For the accompanying guidance and personal and social development teachers, there were two workshops run by Loretta Scott and Dr Mairhead Tagg of Great Easterhouse Women's Aid, frequently called as an expert witness in court cases.

The first was concerned with ways the issues raised in the play could be developed as part of the S1-S6 curriculum to shape attitudes to violence.

In the second, Loretta Scott introduced a new educational resource pack, Action Against Abuse - There's no Excuse, which has been well received by the staff and pupils in the three Glasgow secondaries where it was piloted as part of the development of the schools anti-abuse curriculum. There is no mail order service for this, "because this pack contains some very sensitive material," she explained. "It is only being released to inducted teachers."

This is typical of the care with which this work is being undertaken. Scott constantly reiterates her "softly softly" strategy: "We have to be very protective of the children. They must feel secure and comfortable. We have to limit the power of compulsion, the children will be able to 'pass' if they want to. And it's exactly the same for the teachers. It will be entirely a matter for the school, whether the teaching materials are used, and who uses them. I would much rather it was not taught at all than taught badly."

All Glasgow secondary schools will be invited to take part in a central inservice programme around February, at which they will be issued with a copy of the pack, so they can build it into their PSD programmes for the following session if they wish. The council will also organise and pay for the play to tour upper secondaries in the spring, thereby furthering this remarkable partnership between an education department and an educational theatre company.

Authorities interested in purchasing the pack should contact Loretta Scott on 0141 287 8187, or in a tour of the play, should contact Baldy Bane on 0141 632 0193

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