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V&A exhibition to put censorship of the arts in the spotlight

Costume design by Cordelia Selwood for the Windmill Theatre's Revuedeville shows in the 1930s, which escaped censorship by presenting nudes in motionless poses. Image: Victoria and Albert Museum
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An exhibition exploring freedom of expression in the arts has been launched to mark 50 years since state censorship of the British stage was abolished.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 has opened at the V&A to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Theatres Act (1968) coming into force. This heralded the end of state censorship of British theatre.

The exhibition will examine how censorship has affected the performing arts and considers its impact on society more generally.

The V&A said the exhibition will look at how censorship has been “adapted to govern what we see and experience in the theatre”, and will explore whether the role of the state has been replaced by other factors.

It will feature designs for costumes and sets, photographs and rare archive material alongside interviews with leading academics and campaign groups.

The exhibition comes as theatre productions in recent years have been cancelled following protests, raising questions about the freedom of speech in the arts.

In 2004, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti was cancelled following protests over a rape scene, while a 2015 production of a National Youth Theatre show called Homegrown, about the radicalisation of young Muslims, was cancelled shortly before it was due to open. It was later revealed there were concerns about the play’s “one dimensional tone” and “extremist agenda”.

The V&A exhibition runs until January 27, 2019, in the theatre and performance galleries.

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