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On The Case For Youths

Not all children’s theatre has to be trivial; it can be serious too, writer Mike Kenny tells Sue Conley

Remember being a child? Remember how smart you were? How clued in? How you, possibly, knew about stuff that your parents didn't think you knew about? How, maybe, they might have tried to shield you from the unpleasantness of life -- which was all well and good, but it wasn't like you didn't know life was harsh at times, right?

Mike Kenny hasn't forgotten, and the playwright's work often tackles challenging topics for a young audience. In Boy With a Suitcase, Kenny has crafted a tale of Naz, a 12-year-old on his own, on the road, on his way to seek asylum in Ireland, his only possessions packed in the suitcase that accompanies him over mountains and across the seas.

Kenny is a teacher and an actor; two careers that have stood him in good stead as he turned his hand to playwrighting, as well as his background in theatre-in-education in Leeds.

"I feel kind of like a fake as a writer," Kenny confesses. "I meet people who've always wanted to be writers, who've got drawers full of scripts that have never been done, but I haven't. People asked me to do it, so I did it. That was 20-odd years ago -- I've written an awful lot since then."

Much of it has been for children. He became involved with Barnstorm, the Kilkenny-based theatre company, through having met artistic director Philip Hardy years ago, on the youth theatre circuit. "The Irish are great internationalists," says Kenny. "They consistently see everything and get out into the world. And they consistently do good work."

The subject matter is pertinent to our times, and Kenny is passionate about his young audiences' ability to cope with such a story of loss and travail. "They more than cope -- they drink it up," he exclaims.

"Children like to be treated seriously, and like to look at the world. It's like the difference between real food and junk food, you know? There's plenty of artistic junk food for kids that doesn't require them to make any effort at all. I think they actually like being made to work."

Boy With a Suitcase runs in Draíocht in Blanchardstown on Monday and Tuesday, and in Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, on March 1st and 2nd. See www.barnstorm.ie for more information