Homegrown: “Not enough has been said about the silencing of young artists”


Credit: Helen Maybanks / National Youth Theatre

“Do I believe this play was censored? I absolutely fucking do.” So said Madani Younis, artistic director of The Bush Theatre, on stage at a packed Conway Hall last night for a panel discussion on the controversial play about radicalisation Homegrown, which was cancelled in September 2015 just two weeks before it was due to open.

“And on what basis was it pulled? On some notion of what is artistically valid, which I don’t buy, by the way. I don’t buy it because if they questioned the artistic merit of the show, it would have never arrived in the rehearsal room in the first instance,” Younis added.

Last night’s event was hosted by Index on Censorship to celebrate the long-awaited release of the full script of Homegrown. The panel also included deputy editor of Spiked Tom Slater, TV and radio writer and director Clara Glynn, and professor of social and behavioural sciences at Kingston University Vron Ware. It was moderated by Hassan Mahamdallie, director of the Muslim Institute and playwright.

The National Youth Theatre approached Homegrown writer Omar El-Khairy to “respond to these ideas of radicalisation that he felt was happening out there in the ether”, Younis explained. Before rehearsals, NYT gave El-Khairy notes and Nadia Latif was enlisted to direct.

“NYT knew what they were subscribing too in my opinion,” Younis  added. “When you’ve green-lit a show into rehearsals, you’re kind of all in in that process.” Then the police got involved and questions were raised about the health and safety of the young people involved due to the subject matter of radicalisation, which seemed to spell the end of the play.

A short video provocation on the portrayal of muslims in mainstream media, including clips from Borat, Back to the Future and American Sniper, preceded the main discussion.

The cast of Homegrown, seated throughout the hall, surprised the audience with the performance of a excerpt of the play following calls for questions from the audience, after which they received a standing ovation.

The floor was then opened for reactions and discussion from the audience, cast and panel. Many admired the cast and directors for their hard work and dedication to the project despite their censorship woes. Others praised Homegrown’s ability to discuss such heavy subject matters in a tasteful and thought-provoking manner.

There was also debate around the extent of freedom of speech and censorship in society. “I don’t believe in absolute free speech…I don’t believe free speech is an absolute,” said Glynn, condemning hate speech. However, Slater argued that limiting such speech always ends in censorship. “I defend free speech no matter what is said,” Slater added.

The night concluded with closing remarks from Nadia and Omar, who also received a standing ovation and from the audience. “Not enough has been said about the silencing of the young artists,” said Nadia.

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