Below is an excerpt from a speech that theatre blog writer Lyn Gardner made at the Unicorn Theatre in London while being presented with an award for outstanding contribution to children’s arts by Action for Children’s Arts. Her speech offers some beautiful insight into all that theatre offers for children – not least of which is the importance of imagination. Enjoy!
It often feels as if every review or article about children’s theatre represents a tiny triumph. It is a tiny triumph, over the kind of outmoded and ignorant thinking that dismisses work for children and ignores it on the grounds that children’s theatre is not worth reviewing, that somehow something intended for children cannot possibly be of the same worth as a Tom Stoppard play or King Lear. What rot.
As someone who has dipped my toe into writing novels for children, I’m still astonished by how many well-meaning but misguided people ask: “So when are you going to write a proper grownup novel?”, as if writing for children – surely the most challenging of all audiences – counts for nothing. Just as children’s literature of the last 15 years has flourished, so theatre for young people has often not just matched theatre for adult audiences but often surpassed it.
Children’s novels get a meagre amount of review space, but when it comes to writing about children’s theatre, every column inch must still be fought for and over. This lack of coverage matters because it is always the case that what is reviewed in our culture quickly becomes what is valued in our culture. An absence of reviews about theatre that is made for and with children, and a reluctance by arts desks and editors to take children’s theatre seriously not only suggests that we do not value that particular area of theatre, but that we do not value children and their experience of the world.