Mike Kenny on the art of writing to entertain children in the theatre

PANTOMIMES are festive fun, but there is another type of theatre that caters for the younger members of the family at this time of year.

Two masters of the craft of creating work for younger audience members think we need to start believing in the power of theatre for youngsters all year round.

The accepted authority on writing for youngsters is Mike Kenny, the writer of York Theatre Royal's phenomenally successful The Railway Children he is also the man who has provided the script for the West Yorkshire Playhouse Christmas show for youngsters for the past five years. Kenny is in bullish mood, regularly stopping mid flow to joke that he should be ignored 'because I'm a bitter and twisted old man', which, incidentally, he categorically isn't. What he is, however, is someone a little tired of having to fight his corner in the theatre world.

"When big theatres want someone to write a show for children they get Mark Ravenhill or Katie Mitchell. They even got Alan Bennett to write Wind in the Willows – did he have a history of writing for children's theatre?" asks Kenny.

"I don't feel I've cracked it. I will have cracked it when a big theatre takes one of my original shows, but that's unlikely because in this country we have a strangely ghetto-ised system when it comes to how we judge children's theatre.

"One of my most successful shows was Walking the Tightrope, a story about a grandfather and granddaughter, that played to a lot of mixed age audiences. The children found it funny and the older people who saw it found it very moving. I think that's why it annoys me that it 'children's theatre' is put in a certain box, because I am writing theatre plays. I never sit down to write 'a play for children'."

While Mike Kenny is the recognised authority on the subject, Hull writer Nick Lane has been quietly ploughing his own furrow in Hull.

His irreverent humour makes for shows that are lapped up by youngsters, but the sheer abandoned joy of Lane's productions means that adults can't help but have fun too.

"It's about having a laugh isn't it?" says Lane, who takes the entertaining of youngsters with his plays very seriously.

Lane's version of A Christmas Carol was the first show for children John Godber asked Lane to write ten years ago this year. At the time it was a one man version in which he also starred.

This year's version features a cast of four with Lane, who has done substantial rewrites, directing.

"The thing that you have to avoid when writing for children is not to patronise them, not to talk down to them. You have to forget you're writing a play for young people and just write a play. You've got a real responsibility because for a lot of children this will be their first introduction to theatre so you can inspire a lifelong love for theatre in them - if you get it right."

Along with writing for children, the thing that Kenny and Lane share is a desire to see theatre for young people achieve high standards - and not only be performed at Christmas.

"It's good to get them in at this time of year, but hopefully the show is good enough to make them want to see theatre all year round," says Lane.

A Christmas Carol, Hull Truck, to Dec 31.

Aladdin, West Yorkshire Playhouse, to Jan 15.