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Play at Birmingham Rep closed by Protesters

(15 Posts)
Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 13:03:03

I will try to find a good link to the story, but basically, B'ham Rep have been presenting a play by a young female Sikh writer which includes scenes of sexual abuse taking place in a gurdwara. Tha theatre have been in long discussion with the Sikh community, and have included a statement expressing their reservations about the play in the programme. There has also been peaceful protesting outside the theatre. On Sat night 400 violent protesters stormed the theatre (full of children for the Panto), threw bricks, injured police - and the threate has withdrawn the production because they feel they cannot guarantee public safety.

My own take is that this will have two horrible effects - 1, a backlash against religious minorities and 2, a belief that all anyone has to do to censor views other than their own is turn to mob violence.

Free expression allowed the play to take place, and dissenters to freely make their views known in peaceful protest.

If I was the B'ham Rep, (and I am a theatre director) I would have re-scheduled the performances of this play so that they did not co-incide with the panto, contacted audience members and told them of the change, but offered a refund if they did not want to come, for whatever reason, and insisted that the police protect the theatres right to put on works exploring different perspectives.

Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 13:03:32

P.S a gurdwara is a place of worship / temple.

Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 13:07:45

The Guardian

The Independent was good this a.m, too.

MariNativityPlay Tue 21-Dec-04 13:09:31

I was very saddened by this story too Blu.
London recently managed to stage the also fairly controversial Battle for Green Lanes without this happening. I wonder whether there are specific local issues to do with the West Mids...I honestly can't see this sort of behaviour happening in Gravesend, my nearest sizeable Sikh community.

motherinfestivemood Tue 21-Dec-04 13:11:52

You would IMO have taken the right tack.

I do find the term 'community leader' conjures up, for me, a man of 50 plus. Is this just me?

MariNativityPlay Tue 21-Dec-04 13:11:59

OMG at Estelle Norris and the Birmingham councillor! I hadn't seen a paper yet this morning. I am and now too. Let's bring back the Lord Chamberlain while we're about it, perhaps Estelle would like to apply?

Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 13:12:50

Apparantly on newsnight last night one of the Sikh elders was saying that the violence was started by some rather less than devout young men probably out for a bit of a hoo-hah on a Saturday night. Which may well be true. However, sadly, the Sikh community with whom the Rep have been liaising seem to be quite satisfied that the decision to close has been forced by violence, nevertheless.

DickWhittingtonsCat Tue 21-Dec-04 13:20:22

The Independent website has got one of the controversial sections of the script on its website (sorry very incompetently not done a link here). It did not tempt me to go and see the play! However, it does seem very Joe Orton in tone. Given the tone and the fact that the theatre was giving the audience copies of the objections, I too think OMG at Estelle Morris and council leader. MIF, yes, exactly "community leader" but when you read the extract, you can see just how the play hits the spot by satirising a "community leader" of that stereotype!

walkinginawelshmumwonderland Tue 21-Dec-04 13:25:16

The Guardian also wrote that the Sikh community in the West Midlands had more of a history of taking to the streets that the one in London. Apparently there were street protests in the 1980s - over the creation of a Sikh homeland.
I think it's very sad that the play has been cancelled. There is a very necessary tradition of tolerance of other religious beliefs in this country and seems to be instinctively wrong.
Someone was saying that insurance company couldn't continue to underwrite the show if the police couldn't promise to keep things under control and that's the real reason.

Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 13:43:54

Hmmm, hadn't thought of the insurance angle. I really feel for the Rep people, they must be sick at heart.

MariNativityPlay Tue 21-Dec-04 14:41:19

THIS was posted by Ben Payne, Associate Director at the Rep, on a drama discussion board I am a member of...

We, the undersigned, deplore the violent events that have very regrettably led to the cancelling of the remaining performances of BEHZTI (DISHONOUR) by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on grounds of the safety of the audience, performers and staff of the theatre.

We all have the right to be protected from abuse on the grounds of our race or religion. We also have the right to peacefully protest if a work of art offends us. We do not have the right to use violence and intimidation to prevent that work of art from being seen by others.

We particularly deplore the stance of those community and religious leaders of whatever faith who have condemned the production of this play, misrepresented it in clear ignorance of its intent and content, but have not condemned those who have used their faith as an excuse for hooliganism.

To verbally and physically threaten a writer, audience members, performers and theatre staff is unacceptable. To attempt to censor a play because some incidents in it would thereby be rendered less offensive to some people if they were set elsewhere is unacceptable. To stop the production of a work of art by means of force and continued threats of force is unacceptable. To make death threats against a writer and a writer's relatives is unacceptable.

Doubtless, some will see the fact that the play's production has been brought to an end by this campaign of intimidation as some kind of victory. The reality is we all lose by it. The violent abuse of power to silence the individual in a community is one of the main themes of this writer's play. It is a sad irony therefore that the violent actions of some of the protestors on Saturday have actually only served to confirm the play's relevance to us all..

It is a legitimate function of art to provoke debate and sometimes to express controversial ideas. A genuinely free, pluralist society would celebrate this aspect of our culture. Those who use violent means to silence it must be vigorously opposed and challenged by all of us, whatever our faith, belief or opinions.

Blu Tue 21-Dec-04 14:51:05

Is it a public board, Marina?

sis Tue 21-Dec-04 19:06:18

I made myself read the extract of the play in the Independent and it wasn't my kind of thing but am very saddened that violence has succeeded in stopping the play.

MI yes, it always annoys me when they talk of 'community leaders' - they are just middle aged-plus men who didn't get elected to represent anyone but decided to appoint themselves as representatives of whole communities.

sobernoel Tue 21-Dec-04 19:22:52

I was a theatre manager in my previous life, and would not have scheduled this play to run alongside a panto. However, I'm incensed that the play has been cancelled. I think any ideology that uses violence in the face of a challenge is basically weak and afraid. A theatre is as valuable an arena for expressing thoughts and ideas in a liberal democracy as a church is, imo

Taking the scene out of context doesn't really help the argument as it reads quite badly I think. But an artist in this country should have the right to explore ideas without threat to their personal safety.

sis Tue 21-Dec-04 20:33:31

Sobernoel, I think you are being very kind by refering to the 'protesters' as having an 'ideology'. They are just bullies and they got away with their bullying.

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