Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Homegrown Censorship

Last night I attended an event, hosted by Index On Censorship, provocatively titled 'The inconvenient Muslim.' The night was a launch event for the play Homegrown which was cancelled during rehearsals by the National Youth Theatre in 2015 after police intervention.

Index On Censorship at Conway Hall

The night began with an address from members of Index On Censorship, who introduced a panel discussion led by Hassan Mahamdallie, with Madani Younis, Tom Slater, Clara Glynn and Vron Ware. They discussed, first, the play itself, the circumstances which led to its commissioning and eventual censorship, and led into a debate on the nature of censorship in theatre itself.

One of the most striking parts of the night came after the panel discussion when Mahamdallie appeared to open up to questions from the audience. What followed was a guerilla performance from cast members of the original production who had been seated throughout the hall. With the appearance of a Q&A between themselves, they pitched extracts from the play, disputing, debating, throwing out voices from across the spectrum of opinion; some were sympathetic, others vitriolic; rising in crescendo to a goosebump inducing conclusion, and a very well deserved standing ovation.

Tom Slater, Madani Younis and Hassan Mahamdallie

After the performance, questions were genuinely invited from the audience, and the panel discussed them at length. The panel were explicit in agreeing that the performance had been genuinely censored rather than pulled over questions of artistic merit (one of the excuses offered in the immediate aftermath), and the cast and creative team behind Homegrown were praised for their approach to very difficult questions and circumstances.

Finally, Omar El-Khairy (the writer) and Nadia Latif (director) took to the stage, to another standing ovation, to speak about the pride they had in their cast - much of Homegrown was developed in collaboration with the NYT cast during rehearsals - and the anger they had felt, not only over the silencing of the play itself, but also the enforced silencing of the young actors, whose experience was being invalidated by censoring their voices.

My brain is buzzing, and Index On Censorship and The Guardian have written summaries of the event, which may help me to get my thoughts into some sort of coherent narrative before writing again.

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