Madani Younis: Radical Islam play ‘was censored’
Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis has claimed a play about radicalisation cancelled by the National Youth Theatre was “absolutely censored”.
Homegrown, written by Omar El-Khairy and directed by Nadia Latif, had been scheduled to run as part of NYT’s 2015 season, but was cancelled less than two weeks before it was due to open.
NYT initially claimed that the play, which deals with the radicalisation of three muslim teenagers from Bethnal Green in London, was axed because it “could not be sure of the play meeting the set standards”. It was later revealed that NYT artistic director Paul Roseby was concerned about the “one-dimensional tone and opinion” of the play and the writer and director’s alleged “extremist agenda”.
Homegrown has now been self-published by Latif and El-Khairy and was launched on March 6 at an event held by the Index on Censorship, which saw an extract of the piece performed and featured a panel discussion on the play’s cancellation.
Speaking at the event, Younis argued that NYT “knew what they were subscribing to” when it commissioned Homegrown. He dismissed arguments that it was cancelled because it “wasn’t good enough” or because of safeguarding concerns.
He said: “I absolutely fucking do believe this play was censored. I don’t say that lightly. I think there’s a perverse irony in all of this.
“Omar is a playwright who was approached by NYT, whose artistic director wanted Omar to respond to these ideas of radicalisation, in particular focusing in on east London.
“NYT knew what they were subscribing to, but during the course of rehearsals messages are then brought into the rehearsal room that there is a police health and safety issue and young people are at risk.”
Younis argued it was not only a question of censorship, but also of “representation”.
He said: “Both Nadia and Omar are Muslim, creating this piece looking at radicalisation today, and then two Muslims are told ‘actually your shit isn’t good enough’, and then their show is pulled.
“And on what basis is that pulled? On some notion of what is artistically valued, which I don’t buy, by the way. Because if NYT had questioned the artistic merit of the show it would never have arrived in the rehearsal room in the first instance.”
He added: “While some think the culture in this country is bohemian and left-leaning, it’s not. It’s conservative, middle-class and monocultural.”
Younis also addressed issues around safeguarding young people.
He said: “Omar wrote probably wrote 70% of the play before entering the rehearsal room, but the other 30% is devised by the young men and women they are working with.
“So we shouldn’t sit here and think this work was forced upon these artists, they were absolutely part of this process and they own that process.
“This process was absolutely about safeguarding the artists in the room and ensuring their voices could be heard by their audiences.”
Director Latif accused NYT of “toying with the emotions” of 115 young people.
She said: “It is really tough because it was like being part of a really small and rubbish club and no one else can understand what you are going through, but we had those 115 people who did understand.
“I believe that you should never put on a show that you are not 100% behind. You’ve got to either put everything behind it or don’t commission it in the first place.”
She added that she hopes to put on the play in full in the future, but the most important thing was to “get it out there”, with the script now available.
NYT declined to comment.