Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Play That Should Not Go On

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Play That Should Not Go On

Article excerpt


WHAT a strange Christmas we are having. It i s t hought right to remove the Posh and Becks Nativity from Madame Tussauds because it offended Christians. Yet it is wrong to remove a play in Birmingham, possibly to be staged soon at the Royal Court, because it offends Sikhs.

One form of censorship is good, the other bad. One form of art, wax sculpture, is censored as tasteless while another should benefit from the protection of the law. Or so runs the conventional wisdom.

The Beckham Nativity, complete with a Kylie Minogue angel, seemed devoid of merit.

But I am sure there are talents nursing their bruises in the Tussauds workshop for whom it was a Donatello masterpiece. Yet one assault from a vandal's hammer and it is cast forever into the furnace with half of London saying good riddance.

The Birmingham play, Behzti (Dishonour), by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, depicts scenes of sexual violence and depravity committed by a holy man in a Sikh temple. I have not seen it, but its setting was too much for many Sikhs. They reacted as might devout Christians to a play depicting priests sodomising choirboys on the altar of Canterbury Cathedral - with shock and anger.

The play is reportedly being considered for performance or "public reading" in London, where a larger Sikh community can be relied upon to react with equal outrage.

Assured of headlines and a riot or two, many a producer may be encouraged to take a punt.

THE easy way out of this argument is to say that artists should show more sensitivity to the feelings of minorities, or majorities, less robust than those of a cultural elite.

They should avoid inciting the violence seen at Tussauds and in Birmingham. Courtesy and consideration for others is a sign of a civilised community, especially when that community is seething with multicultural tensions. It is plain common sense.

Thus I cannot believe many people need Mr and Mrs Beckham as a metaphor for Mary and Joseph, or Tony Blair, George Bush and Prince Philip for the Three Kings.

Equally I cannot believe many Sikhs, or anyone else, needed telling that hypocrisy someside-goes hand in hand with sanctity in church circles.

Surely we can make these points without tastelessness or provocation. Art can find ways of saying things that do not require broken heads and the costly protection of the Metropolitan Police.

But what do we do when matters go beyond that point, as they did at Tussauds, in Birmingham - and possibly in London? Do we recall the Lord Chamberlain, who ruled the London stage until 1967? Should we expect the new racial and religious-incitement laws to perform the same task and ban anything against which someone can generate a riot?

I have no problem with censorship as such. I censor what I write on this page myself, over and again. …

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