Paul Play to Provoke Prosecution?

The UK National Theatre’s artistic director Nicholas Hynter warns in the Daily Telegraph that the new Incitement to Religious Hatred law might prevent the theatre from putting on a new play:

In the autumn, the National Theatre will mount a production of a major new play by Howard Brenton about St Paul. Or at least, we will if people who haven’t read it, but think they might be offended by it, do not succeed in persuading the Government that it falls foul of the new Bill on religious hatred…I will be very proud to put it on – but I am not sure I am prepared to do seven years inside for it…

Brenton first came to prominence in 1980 with The Romans in Britain, a play which commented (perhaps unsubtly) on the nature of colonialism with an explicit homosexual rape scene. The director, Michael Bogdanov, subsequently had to endure a private prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse for “procuring an act of gross indecency”, although the case failed (this story, which was not without some farcical moments, was recently dramatized for Radio 4 by Mark Lawson in a play called The Third Soldier Holds His Thighs; the organisation founded by Whitehouse was not impressed)

Hytner’s current fearfulness is in contrast to a report in the same paper from back in February:

The National Theatre said yesterday that it would defy all attempts by religious pressure groups to censor its dramas as it unveiled a hard-hitting slate of plays for the next 12 months.

…Hytner refused yesterday to disclose any details of the new play. He admitted, however: “There may be Christians who don’t want to see the faith of St Paul examined by Howard Brenton. It does not conform to the absolute truth that fundamentalist Christians believe.”

Details about the play are still rather thin on the ground. However, Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha is still available from British bookshops, so whatever the problems of the new legislation I don’t think Hytner needs to worry too much in this particular case…

(Link from MediaWatchWatch)

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