Following the controversial cancellation of the National Youth Theatre production Homegrown amid concerns it would promote radicalisation, theatre directors, actors and writers have taken to an open letter to express their disappointment and confusion.
The letter, published in the Times, is part of an ongoing battle to get to the root of the sudden cancellation of a play intended to break down the barriers of censorship. As explored in two previous Teaching Drama articles (4 June and 18 August), the play, which explored the reasons behind homegrown radicalisation, was due to open on 12 August, but was pulled just days before by NYT.
Director Nadia Latif and writer Omar El-Khairy had been forced to relocate the production after Tower Hamlets council informed them the school venue was inappropriately close to the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, who are thought to have fled to Syria to become jihadi brides earlier this year. Following that, Latif and El-Khairy were warned that Metropolitan Police were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience, though this is denied by the Met.
The open letter, which can be seen below, is the beginning of a larger argument against theatre censorship, a subject we will be exploring in our Autumn 2 edition of Teaching Drama.
Why was the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown, a new play about radicalisation, suddenly cancelled?
Sir, The abrupt cancellation of the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown is a troubling moment for British theatre and freedom of expression. The play seeks to examine radicalisation and disaffection among British youth. Its cancellation serves only to shut down conversation on these important issues. We fear that government policy in response to extremism may be creating a culture of caution in the arts.
We are deeply concerned by reports that the NYT may have been put under external pressure to change the location and then cancel the production. Police, local authorities and arts organisations have a duty to respect and protect freedom of expression — even, and most especially, where they disagree with the message or find it controversial.
We urge the NYT to give a full account of what led to the decision, and hope that a way can be found to stage it so that the young voices involved can be heard and the production can be judged on its merits.
Maureen Freely, president, English PEN
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship
Jo Glanville, director, English PEN
Shami Chakrabarti, director, Liberty
Anish Kapoor, artist
Anneliese Davidsen, executive director, Unicorn Theatre
Christopher Haydon, artistic director, Gate Theatre
Sir David Hare, playwright
David Lan, artistic director, Young Vic
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, playwright
Heydon Prowse, actor
Jolyon Rubinstein, actor
Howard Brenton, playwright
Josie Rourke, artistic director, Donmar Warehouse
Lorne Campbell, artistic director, Northern Stage
Monica Ali, writer
David Aaronovitch, chair, Index on Censorship
Nell Leyshon, playwright
Nick Williams, executive director, Actors Touring Company
Ramin Gray, artistic director, Actors Touring Company
Sabrina Mahfouz, playwright
Sarah Frankcom, artistic director, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester