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Free speech group says theatremakers are censoring plays to avoid Islamic backlash

A publicity shot for the cancelled National Youth Theatre production Homegrown. Photo: Helen Maybanks A publicity shot for the cancelled National Youth Theatre production Homegrown. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Theatres and playwrights are censoring their plays for fear of offending Muslims, a leading free speech campaign group has claimed.

Jodie Ginsberg, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, claimed theatre heads are worried that certain plays would cause “violent protests” and elect not to stage them to avoid the risk.

She pointed to last year’s cancelled National Youth Theatre production, Homegrown, which was set to examine radicalisation in schools but was pulled two weeks before its premiere.

Emails from NYT chief Paul Roseby later revealed the play was axed due to concerns over its “one-dimensional tone and opinion” and the creative team’s “extremist agenda”.

Speaking at a Hampstead Theatre Festival talk, Ginsberg said that while many people feel censorship in the arts is in the past, Homegrown’s cancellation proved “those dangers are still very much present”.

Continuing, she said: “In particular, there is a great deal of worry about putting on plays at the moment that are seen to be offensive to Muslims. There’s great deal of concern that is essentially creating self-censorship, because people are worried [work] is going to create violent protest and therefore they’re not willing to put that risk on.”

Ginsberg laid the blame partly with the “national security fear” perpetuated by the government, which she claimed causes excessive caution from theatres and playwrights.

“We hear an awful lot of rhetoric and, indeed, an awful lot of legislation – they’re increasingly trying to target non-violent but potentially extremist speeches. And it’s making people very concerned about the kind of things that they can put on, and offending people’s sensibilities,” she explained.

Ginsberg highlighted that the government was not directly censoring plays in the way authorities have in the past. But she added: “Certainly a lot of the messaging does come from that governmental level, and filters down. And that’s what makes playwrights and theatre houses very cautious.”

Ginsberg was speaking on a panel alongside playwright Howard Brenton and Sarah Sands, editor of the London Evening Standard.

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