17th November 2003

"Don't say that!" my 18-year old niece Maria snapped at her Mum as we came out of the theatre on Saturday night. Great venue (the new Hampstead Theatre), lousy choice of play. "Don't say it was 'youth culture'!"

Maria was right. This was not 'youth culture' but some newish writer's view of youth, three boys around sixteen and a slightly older girl. It was a bleak vision, the children of soldiers and sailors in 1982 Gibraltar growing up to be the mindless killers of the British army. We weren't shown any character capable of thinking themselves out of this mess of inherited brutality. The language was mindless, loads of 'fuck' and no flights of imagination - sixteen year olds I know can be wildly inventive when chatting. The audience tried to laugh, we wanted to have a good time, the actors did well, but all you really wanted to do was escape their company.

I get much more real-life drama meeting parents when they come into the school where I teach. Film one of those encounters, and you would have some compelling drama. Similarly on a school trip to London last week, taking 100 fifteen and sixteen year-olds to the West End to see Of Mice and Men, we saw loads of good drama, but it was all happening on the streets as our bus passed by. The kids behaved in the theatre, they did their best, but the performance was woefully static and untheatrical. Characters were not believable to them. "The actor playing Lenny," one boy told me today... "He sat with his legs straight out and wide apart, like he was confortable with himself and open. That was wrong. Lenny's not like that."

We try and introduce kids to 'culture', but we ought to open up to the kids' own lives first. That's what we've got to match. Anything we write for a young audience or readership has to be at least as compelling as the lives they already lead.

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