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/