Index on Censorship welcomes the latest statement from the National Youth Theatre (NYT) clarifying why it cancelled the production of Homegrown, a play which explored Islamic radicalisation among young people in the United Kingdom.
The production was two weeks into rehearsals when the cancellation was announced. The show, which had been in development for six months, was the product of workshops with British young people aged between 16 and 25. The production team and some of the cast released separate statements in response to the latest comments from the National Theatre.
Index remains deeply concerned that an arts project exploring an important subject, which young people of all ethnicities need to be able to discuss and debate, was closed down.
“We are worried that, without even a line of legislation being debated, the government has created an atmosphere whereby arts organisations are increasingly nervous of putting on any play that touches controversial subjects, and specifically the question of Islamic extremism,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg.
“We recognise that arts organisations have a duty to protect staff and audiences, but worry that a fear of offence is preventing them from fulfilling their duties to protect free expression. Arts groups need more support from the authorities – such as local police and councils – to ensure controversial work can be staged.”
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The National Youth Theatre’s decision to commission Homegrown was born out of a proven track record of commissioning and producing work with young people, some as young as 14, that tackles challenging subjects and pushes artistic boundaries.
Our unique commitment as an organisation is to the creative and personal development of young people through theatre. That stated aim is what differentiates us and informs the work we do and the decisions made by our executive body. The NYT has never shied away from tackling controversial subjects. If this play was to provide those opportunities for the cast, we required the potentially controversial subject matter to be handled sensitively and with editorial balance and justification.
The decision to commission Homegrown was taken in view of those commitments and aims, and the decision to cancel it was taken according to the same criteria.
Despite a lengthy and willingly collaborative process, the co-creators were not able to reassure us that the content of Homegrown satisfied these understandable and important criteria. Our position was further compromised by the creative team’s inability to deliver a completed script at any time, therefore we could have no certainty that the play would either be ready for the planned opening night, or that if completed it would meet our aims and responsibilities as a youth arts charity. Complaints and concerns expressed by members of the production team, the cast and parents compounded the issue and rendered our position completely untenable.
Clearly our commitment to our members goes beyond an editorial one, and their safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance at all times. The subject matter of this play, its immersive form and its staging in a school required us to go beyond even our usual stringent safeguarding procedures to ensure the security of the venue and safety of cast members. However, we can categorically state that no external parties had any involvement in the decision to cancel the public presentation of Homegrown. It was a decision taken solely by the executive of the NYT and one that we sadly felt compelled to make.
We had hoped to address these differences out of the public gaze and directly with the creative team. However, we recognise the wider interest that the decision to cancel the production has attracted, and with the release of information today from the Arts Council it is only appropriate that we address this publicly and fully.
We do not regret commissioning Homegrown and wholeheartedly agree with those that have stated that the issues raised by the creeping radicalisation of the young should be addressed by the arts. We set out to do so but on this occasion were not successful.
We acknowledge that our view of the readiness of the play as an NYT production does not chime with that of the creative team. However we can only base our decisions on the facts, and on the unique criteria upon which the NYT is proudly founded.
We are releasing the rights in Homegrown to Omar El-Khairy and wish him and Nadia Latif well in securing another outlet for their show, when it is completed.
— Paul Roseby, artistic director of the National Youth Theatre