The National Youth Theatre has recently been forced to cancel a play exploring the motives behind radicalised young people exploring Islamic State less than two weeks before it was due to open.
Homegrown, a National Youth Theatre production, was originally going to run at a school in Bethnal Green but was moved after pressure from Tower Hamlets Council. Yesterday, NYT confirmed that the play would not run at all.
In an interview with The Guardian, the show’s director and writer Nadia Latif and playwright Omar El-Khairy suggested that ‘some extraordinary external pressure’ was responsible for the sudden cancellation, going on to say that the police had been heavily interested in ‘Homegrown’ from the off, with the suggestion that they might put plainclothes officers in the audience.
I live in Bethnal Green and study drama. I don’t know what causes teenagers to be radicalised and join Islamic State. But I do think it’s important that we have a conversation about it.
Young people being radicalised is one of the most important issues we face in Britain today. It pricks our conscience and challenges the sense that the Britain we think we know – one of democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance – works well for everyone living here.
As a resident of Bethnal Green, I’m keenly aware that there are people who, perhaps sleeping in bedrooms yards away from me, do not share a desire to stay in this country. And that pains me.
The arts exist to challenge and open up a dialogue about sensitive subjects. They’re there to bring sensitive, taboo topics out into the open and provide a forum for discussion. They force us to question our deeply-held assumptions and beliefs.
They ask us to set aside prejudice, what we’ve read in the media and think for ourselves. And make no mistake – that is the level at which the debate about radicalisation needs to be.
It’s especially important that young actors are given space to tackle challenging, sensitive material too.
But really, this comes down to two P’s, principle and precedent:
- Principle: the battle against radicalization isn’t going to be fought in Whitehall, by imams, by the commentariat or by self-appointed community leaders. It needs to happen on a household-by-household basis; around our dinner tables, in our living rooms, and yes – in our theatres too!
- Precedent: the closing of Homegrown is part of a wider, national trend for censorship of the arts. A show by Israeli company Incubator Theatre was cancelled at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the face of escalating protests in August 2014. The Barbican’s performance art installation Exhibit B also closed under similar circumstances in October.
It’s vital that we continue our proud British artistic tradition of no subject being considered taboo continues, and I call upon National Youth Theatre to reinstate Homegrown.