A PLAYWRIGHT whose work often explores racism in Scotland has been commissioned to write a new play for children about protesting and activism.

An award-winning poet and playwright, Hannah Lavery’s experience of being a Scottish person of colour has influenced much of her recent work. This includes her play, The Drift, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and her work in progress, Lament For Sheku Bayoh, which is about to be performed at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre for online viewing.

She has now been asked to work on a new piece of writing called The Protest which will be staged at next year’s Imaginate Children’s Festival in Edinburgh, pandemic permitting.

Lavery, who lives in East Lothian and has three children said: “I remember protesting with my mum against apartheid in Edinburgh in the late 1980s and how important it was to me, as a 10-year-old, that there was something I could do. That there was a way to call on the world to change.”

Inspired by the recent political and social movements led by young people across the world, she said she wanted to write about how activism and political engagement can shape and change a young person and those around them.

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She intends to weave the stories of three young people deciding to attend their first protest with the voices of older activists and their stories from the recent past.

“I want to write a play that shows how young activists are part of a tradition of ordinary people who became active in order to make their world a more just place, and that their action can inspire great change,” said Lavery. “I want to write something hopeful. Children are going to inherit a world that needs real action and that can cause a lot of anxiety so I want to show that if you don’t turn away from the problems you can really change things.”

She said it could help if they could see they are part of a tradition and she is now looking out for people who can share their stories.

“I am looking for people like my mum who fought for social justice and are still fighting for that within their communities – they are the people that came together during the lockdown and made sure everyone in the community was okay. These are the people that hold us all together and I want to celebrate those voices.”

Lavery said she is also interested in exploring the experience of those who have found protest has left them disillusioned, like those who marched against the war in Iraq.

“A lot of people walked away from that and felt depressed but a lot stayed active and realised there was a lot of joy when people come together, so that is something I want to explore.”

Lavery believes it is important for people to question themselves and their society in order to improve the world they live in.

Her previous plays, The Drift and Lament For Sheku Bayoh, both raise questions about Scottish society, particularly the issue of Scottish exceptionalism. “I would argue that both of them are acts of love to Scotland,” she said. “They are saying ‘I love my country but I have felt at times like I am an outsider here’. What does it mean for us as a society if we are so tied to our sense of exceptionalism we don’t actually hear for example the reality of racism in our country?

“If we do that we are denying people’s reality. I think that is really dangerous for us as a country because I think the narrative that we often tell ourselves is that this is a tolerant, progressive country. I would love all that to be true but we need to do the work. We don’t just get to say we are – we have to do the work first.”

Sheku Bayoh’s case in particular had to be examined properly, she said.

“We really need to look at what the treatment of Sheku and his family says about us. It is really important to ask that question of ourselves. We need to live in a country where we can question ourselves to move forward but a lot of the way we think about ourselves excludes other people.

“We talk about the clearances and how they’re still relevant but when we talk about Scotland and its involvement in slavery and colonialism for example we think it’s not relevant.”

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LAVERY added: “Often when we talk about our ‘special’ qualities, we exclude people that are coming from within other traditions, cultures and experiences that are not of the mainstream and putting ‘ourselves’ above. I wish we would see culture and society as being something that is always changing and that history is always opening up. It is always being revised.

“These are questions I ask in my work.”

Asking such questions is an act of love and has nothing to do with self-loathing, according to Lavery.

“You don’t love someone blindly and that is why we all should do this work with real energy,” she said.

“We can do it with the same energy we use to work for independence. If we want this new Scotland then we need more honesty.

“I have a passion for the place I live and I want it to be a better place that is accepting of all of us for who we are – and that is the good, the bad and the ugly in us. That will allow us to move forward and towards a better society.

“When we don’t do that then nationalism becomes a scary word, it becomes about flag-waving and a denial of other experiences and that is when it terrifies me.”

She added: “We need to have the will, the energy and the openness to know who we are and what we are, the privileges we have and what it is like to live in the west and all of that. And then the discussion of what we want Scotland to be becomes interesting, passionate and inclusive. Then we have a chance to be what we often say we already are.”