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Royal Court commits to staging Tibet play following censorship claims

Poster for Abhishek Majumdar's work Pah-la, which the playwright posted on Facebook Poster for Abhishek Majumdar's work Pah-la, which the playwright posted on Facebook
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The Royal Court Theatre in London has vowed that it will stage a play about Tibet that has been at the heart of a censorship row.

Indian playwright Abhishek Majumdar’s work Pah-la, which draws on personal stories of Tibetans he worked with in India, was initially due to run at the Royal Court in October 2017.

However, the play was delayed, which Majumdar claimed was due to pressure from British Council in China, and then subsequently withdrawn in January 2018 due to what the theatre has now claimed was down to “financial reasons”.

The theatre has since denied accusations of censorship and has apologised to the Tibetan community. It has committed to programming the work in Spring 2019 “in light of recent events”.

Playwright Majumdar first raised his concerns in a Facebook post published last month addressed to his “dear Tibetan friends in Tibet and in exile”. He claimed the play had been due to open at the Royal Court on October 4, 2017 but said the British Council “pressurised the theatre to withdraw it from opening” because of a programme in Beijing that it was running in partnership with the Royal Court.

He said: “The [British Council] apparently told the theatre that if they programme this play, they will have to stop the China workshop with the Chinese writers.

“The theatre then assured me that this play will be programmed at a later date (possibly in the next season, which starts later this year) and now the board of the theatre has given a directive which apparently has made the artistic director put a stop to this play. This time for financial reasons I am told.”

Majumdar added that the play was facing censorship “over and over again from one of the premiere theatres in the world and of course the Chinese government even before it has opened”.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Court said: “The Royal Court Theatre apologises to the Tibetan community for having had to postpone and subsequently withdraw Pah-la for financial reasons earlier this year.

“We have been developing the play for three years and are extremely proud of this important story. Therefore, in the light of recent events, the Court commits to producing Pah-la in the Spring of 2019.”

She added: “The Royal Court always seeks to protect and not to silence any voice. In an international context this can sometimes be more complex across communities.

“The Royal Court is committed to protecting free speech sometimes within difficult situations. We are committed to our ongoing work with Chinese writers and we intend to place all voices on our stages.”

The spokeswoman added that the theatre had been in conversation with freedom of expression organisation PEN, with whom it will be holding a joint event later this year.

A spokesman for PEN said: “It is a pity that there was a delay in confirming with the playwright that Pah-la will be staged at the Royal Court, but I think what this controversy reveals is how China sows anxiety among artists and arts organisations. We all need to be vigilant to resist this chill on artistic freedom.”

The British Council had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Earlier this year, the Royal Court backtracked on plans to cancel a run of Rita, Sue and Bob Too after it was accused of censorship.

Royal Court backtracks on plans to cancel production of Rita, Sue and Bob Too

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