Ghosts of the dead

31st May 1996 at 01:00
I went to the supermarket and bought some crisps. When I got to school there was nobody there. My mother said that there was a war somewhere in Bosnia. I went on a bus and a boat and a plane, and that is how I came to Scotland. " The words of a Glasgow schoolchild refugee, pinned to the board for TAG's current play. You feel she wants to add: ". . . and then I woke up and found it was all true."

There was a time when teachers could give such things a miss, but nowadays Bosnia - along with Dunblane, Rwanda and the rest - is part of global village gossip, and children bring it into school.

By way of response, TAG and writer David Greig set out in Bosnia, currently touring, to show their audience (P5 and P6) a victim of the Bosnian war (a young mother mourning her murdered child) and explain how murderous hatred can be fomented between neighbours and within families.

Of course, such a history, if truthfully told, would occupy many hours of stage work. So Petra lives in the fictitious land of Poiana, the "Land of Two Rivers", whose topography and history broadly resemble Yugoslavia. There, against her father's wishes, she marries the plumber "who fixed her central heating".

Poiana, sadly, has been a "no man's land" or, more aptly, an "everyman's land", between the Northern and Southern Empires, crossed and recrossed with centuries of invasion and migration. "Happy is the land with no history", but Poiana has plenty, remembered in song and ballad, in saga and folklore.

When its politicians start tapping into the identity instincts of their electorate, the demons are released, and the "Fields of Blood" are watered again. In Greig's story, the ghosts of the murdered can only be laid to rest by knowing how they died.

The school audience responds to the personal stories at the core of the play - the mother and child, the father and daughter, the husband who "is not one of us". But these individuals are also pawns in the bitter political and ethnic game.

Bosnia is one of the most courageous productions around on the Scottish theatre scene. In its school work, TAG has a rare freedom of operation - and the artistic and moral integrity to match it. Its main constraint, as with most theatres, is poverty, brought on by the loss of regional funding. TAG's response is to refine still further its school liaison work. Mhairi McKee, the company's education officer, contributes to the performance with her workshop interventions, and to the classroom with her paper and CD-Rom teaching materials.

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