National Youth Theatre pulls controversial ISIS play at last minute

A brand new play, due to open on 12 August, was pulled by the National Youth Theatre just days before the first night. Homegrown, which followed the lives of three Bethnal Green girls believed to have left school to travel to Syria in February, was directed by Nadia Latif and written by Omar El-Khairy, both of whom claim NYT were aware of the subject of the play from the start.

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The production, which was to feature a 112-strong cast between the ages of 15 and 25, was originally supposed to be performed at Raines Foundation Upper School, less than a mile from the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, the three girls said to have journeyed to Syria to become jihadi brides.

Latif and El-Khairy experienced their first hurdle in June when they were forced to relocate to UCL academy in Swiss Cottage after Tower Hamlets council expressed concern that the subject matter might be ‘insensitive.’ A spokeswoman for the council added: ‘The school was not aware of the subject of the play when they agreed to lease the premises. Once they became aware, they decided that it would not be appropriate to rent their premises to the National Youth Theatre.’

Following the move, which affected the site-specific nature of the play, Latif and El-Khairy claimed that in late July they were warned that Metropolitan Police wanted to see a copy of the script and were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience. The proposition came as a shock to the pair, with El-Khairy adding that ‘we don’t know where that came from or who led the conversation.’ Conversely, the Metropolitan Police deny any involvement with the play or intended venue.
Despite previous difficulties, the cast and crew were looking forward to a ‘kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation,’ as put by Latif, but the pair were emailed by NYT on the Thursday before it was due to open and the cast were informed on the Friday morning.

While NYT has refused to comment on censorship, El-Khairy said: ‘Voices have been silenced here, there is no doubt about that and I just feel like in order to make the decision to cancel it, something very extreme must have happened.’ Some of the young actors scheduled to star in the show took to social media to voice their distress, with David Hall Tweeting, ‘I don’t know how anything can ever change when we are too scared to say the things that need to be said.’

You can view our previous story about the release of Homegrown here: https://wordpress.com/post/25538237/1551/

School site-specific production for 2015 National Youth Theatre season

The National Youth Theatre presents Homegrown created Nadia Latif  and Omar El Khairy Photo by Helen Maybanks.jpg

Homegrown, a site-specific production set in a school in Bethnal Green, forms part of the NYT’s new season (Credit: Helen Maybanks)

A brand new play inspired by news earlier this year of three Bethnal Green schoolgirls’ journey to Syria to join militant group Isis will feature among the National Youth Theatre’s new season. Homegrown, created by director Nadia Latif and writer Omar El-Khairy, explores the implications of radicalism and extremism on people and communities behind the headlines. The site-specific production, featuring a huge cast of 113, will be performed at Raines Foundation Upper School in Bethnal Green in August.

NYT returns to the Ambassadors Theatre this autumn for its third West End rep season featuring a company of sixteen 18-25 year olds. The season is set to include: an adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights from Stephanie Street; a production of Tom Stoppard’s abridged version of The Merchant of Venice for schools; and new play Consensual, exploring teenage hormones, teacher-student relationships and the UK’s age of consent, written by Evan Placey – the playwright behind Girls Like That and Pronoun. Placey’s new play will be the focus of a Sky Arts documentary this summer, which will follow cast and crew as they develop Consensual.

The National Youth Theatre presents Consensual by Evan Placey at the Ambassadors Theatre Photo by Helen Maybanks.jpg

Evan Placey’s Consensual will feature in the NYT’s West End rep season and will also be the focus of a Sky Arts documentary this summer (Credit: Helen Maybanks)

At the launch of the new season, NYT’s artistic director Paul Roseby said: ‘This season will celebrate the diversity, vibrancy and talent of Britain’s youth, with fearless new voices. Much has been said about the current challenges young people from disadvantaged and “diverse” backgrounds face trying to access our industry. We are the only company in the UK putting brave young talent on the West End stage in front of large audiences in a season of this scale.

‘I call on those concerned about access to do something about it by supporting the National Youth Theatre’s free opportunities. They are accessible to all, empower talented young people to learn on stage in front of an audience and lead to professional employment in the creative industries.’

Homegrown will run at Raines Foundation Upper School, Bethnal Green from 12–27 August; NYT’s West End rep season at the Ambassadors Theatre runs from 18 September to 4 December. For more information on these productions and others among the NYT 2015 season, visit www.nyt.org.uk.