The play Stitching , has opened at the Unifaun Theatre in Malta for a two week run. But Stitching is not your average piece of theatre; it's taken 10 years, international coverage, and even a literal EU court case to get this show up and
Ten years ago, in October 2008, local theatre producer Adrian Buckle sent an email to playwright Anthony Nielson, asking for permission to produce his play Stitching in Malta. Nielson duly granted Unifaun the rights to a performance of his play.
Buckle booked a slot at a local theatre, hires the cast and informs the Board for Film and Stage Classification in order expecting to be issued an age-rating certificate for the piece. However, instead of receiving an age certification, Buckle
received a certificate that simply stated the play had been Banned and disallowed, with no explanation or reason provided. Thus begins a ten-year-long battle that finally brings us to this year's production.
However, the team at Unifaun would not stand for this lack of explanation; they chased for an answer, and in January 2009 the police commissioner delivered a letter that detailed the reasons:
Blasphemy against the State Religion
Obscene contempt for the victims of Auschwitz
An encyclopaedic review of dangerous sexual perversions leading to sexual servitude
Abby's eulogy to the child murderers Fred and Rosemary West
Reference to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of children
In conclusion, the play is a sinister tapestry of violence and perversion where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The Board feels that in this case the envelope has been pushed beyond the limits of public
The censorship became major news in Malta and it was decided by the politicians at the time that the established censorship system was no longer compatible with EU human rights requirements, notably Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights:
Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man [...] it is applicable not only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are
favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.
The country's censorship laws were rewritten without calling on the services of stage censors. Film censorship was also reformed with new rules that are based on the UK's, which is at least significantly more free than before.
Yes, the play is crude. Yes, they swear a lot. Yes, they talk about child murderers. Yes, they use a dildo on stage. Yes, they describe sexual acts very explicitly. Yes, it probably made people very uncomfortable. That is why performances are
given an age certification. That is not reason to censor and an artist.
Three performances have passed so far and the world has not ended. Nobody has walked out of the theatre mid-performance in a fit of rage.
Theatre director Maryam Kazemi and theatre manager Saeed Assadi were detained by Iranian authorities over a video trailer for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on 9 September 2018.
The trailer features men and women dancing together, which is illegal in Iran.
Cultural censorship official Shahram Karami said the issue was with the type of music played and the actors' movements used in the trailer.
Both men were later bailed on surety of about $23,000 each.
Kanata, an upcoming French play exploring Canadian Indigenous history, was cancelled on 26 July after some of the show's producers pulled out of the project following 'aggressive controversy'.
There were no Indigenous actors cast in the Robert Lepage-directed production about fictional relationships between Indigenous Canadians and Europeans spanning 200 years.
It was set to debut at the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris this December.
The production created in a little controversy in France due to politically correct concerns about the depiction of Indigenous peoples. The controversy led to North American co-producers pulling out.
Lepage's production company Ex Machina then said in a statement:
Without their financial support, we are unable to finish creating Kanata with Théâtre du Soleil. Therefore, we are putting an end to the project.
Théâtre du Soleil described the "attempted intimidation of theatre artists" in its accompanying statement:
An intimidation unimaginable in a democratic country, that is carried out largely on social media networks in the name of an ideology that the Théâtre du Soleil does not wish to qualify here but to which it will respond with its own tools.
The King and I is back in the West End, 67 years on from its Broadway debut.
But its portrait of a white woman being both fascinated and repelled by a society depicted as both backward and barbarous is winding up a few PC critics.
The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish whinges The King and I one of the most problematic musicals of the 20th Century American canon. Michael Billington expresses similar sentiments in The Guardian , saying it seems to endorse the idea of the
civilising influence of the west on the barbaric east.
The Independent's Paul Taylor detects a smack of imperial condescension to this story of a widowed, well-bred Victorian governess who... gives a funny foreign despot... a stiff dose of Western values.
Time Out's Andrzej Lukowski, meanwhile, calls the musical kind of racist ... like an elderly relative who you make allowances for on grounds of age.
Director Bartlet Sher responds that the show remains resonant, powerful and extremely well-conceived. He also dismisses suggestions the piece has dated, saying its views on colonialism, gender equality and the conflict between modernity and
tradition make it as timely and powerful as ever.
I wonder if these PC critics would have banned British cave rescuers from helping out in Thailand lest heroically saving children's lives affirms 'white saviour' stereotypes.
Offsite Comment: The King and I : a West End treat
New theatre audience advisories in Canada are warning about specific plot points that could trigger emotional trauma for those of a snowflake disposition.
This spring, Western Canada Theatre attached a warning to Children of God, a musical about residential schools, that indicates the production's mature and potentially triggering scenes involving residential schools and sexual abuse.
A subsequent production, Armstrong's War , a play about an Afghan War vet, came with the following advisory:
This hard-hitting yet inspiring drama about bravery and survival contains some potentially triggering content about the horrors of war and mental illness.
And unsurprisingly the trigger warnings have sparked a bit of a debate.
James MacDonald, artistic director of Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, B.C., is in favour of using trigger warnings where the material justifies it.
I think if we inform the audience beforehand, and they're not blindsided by it, then they don't have a negative reaction to it.
MacDonald said he saw a need for trigger warnings after his company staged a play that featured a scene of a daughter being sexually abused by her father. He said:
Even though we had put a content warning on the play to say that there was adult content and scenes which may disturb people, that particular scene evoked many reactions and responses from the audience, and they felt like they were blindsided by
For other theatre professionals, trigger warnings are the very antithesis of what theatre is designed to do: provoke reactions.
Montreal's Imago Theatre specializes in English-language plays written from women's perspectives and often features plays about challenging subject matter, like rape and violence against women. But there isn't a trigger warning anywhere in sight.
Imago's artistic director Micheline Chevrier explains:
I think we have to be careful with trigger warnings. I'm not a fan of wanting to tell somebody exactly everything they're about to experience.
She worries trigger warnings are the first step toward avoidance of difficult material altogether, a slide into self-censorship by playwrights and directors afraid of offending patrons.
The Hungarian National Opera in Budapest has cancelled 15 performances of the musical Billy Elliot , blaming negative campaigning by the local media.
Daily newspaper Magyor Idok ran a series of stories claiming that the show could transform Hungarian boys into homosexuals, and another article said it promoted a deviant way of life.
Szilveszter Okovacs, director of the Hungary National Opera, told Hungarian site 444.hu: As you know, the negative campaign in recent weeks against the Billy Elliot production led to a big drop in ticket sales and for this reason we are
cancelling 15 performances in line with the decision of our management.
The show will still play 24 other dates in the city, including one that is sold out.
Update: Billy Elliot gay propaganda row exposes purge in Hungary
The attack on the head of the Hungarian State Opera was both crude and unexpected. And it came from the mouthpiece of the ruling Fidesz party, Magyar Idok.
Children who watched the opera's performance of the musical Billy Elliot were in danger of becoming homosexual, wrote Zsofia N Horvath in her opinion piece.Even the red stars used in the performance, in Budapest's cavernous Erkel theatre, were
attacked in the show as banned symbols.
But another mystery entirely is that there is no known journalist called Zsofia N Horvath. The article fits into a new cultural offensive against the last liberals in a film, theatre and publishing world that is already dominated by Fidesz
Since December the same publication, Magyar Idok, has featured a string of articles with targets including the head of the distinguished Petofi literary museum in Budapest, Gergely Pröhle. Jozsef Palinkas, the head of the National Research,
Development and Innovation Office and a one-time Orban education minister, has been sacked.
All areas of cultural life should be purged of those who allow space for liberal, globalist, and cosmopolitan ideas, the writers suggest, including state News Agency MTI, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and even Petofi radio, a public service
The European Court of Human Rights has overturned the Maltese courts' decision to ban the play Stitching, eight years after the controversial judgment had incensed the local artistic scene.
The ECHR awarded €10,000 as legal costs as well as €10,000 in moral damages jointly to Unifaun Theatre Productions Limited, as well as director Chris Gatt and actors Pia Zammit and Mike Basmadjian. The court's decision was unanimous, including
Maltese judge Vincent de Gaetano.
Unifaun's production had been banned in 2010 by the Maltese court, a decision confirmed by the Constitutional Court of Appeal, after it was flagged by the now defunct Film and Stage Classification Board.
The Maltese court had ruled in 2010 that it was unacceptable in a democratic society founded on the rule of law for any person to be allowed to swear in public, even in a theatre as part of a script. He pointed out that the country's values could
not be turned upside down in the name of freedom of expression.
The censorship of Stitching had a knock on effect to media censorship in Malta. The government had in 2012 changed the censorship laws , effectively stopping the possibility of theatrical productions being banned and lightening up on film
censorship bringing it more in line with other European countries.
Egypt's state censors have banned a play on the day of its Cairo premiere, saying it cannot be shown without the removal of five key scenes.
As a result, writer and director Ahmed El Attar cancelled performances of Before the Revolution , a two-actor piece that depicts oppression and stagnation in Egypt before its 2011 popular uprising,
In a statement, organizers say El Attar has appealed for a second censorship committee to watch the show on March 19th, asking for it to be allowed to be shown without the censor cuts, which he said heavily distorted the piece.
A stage drama about Tibet has been pulled by the Royal Court Theatre for fear offending China.
Abhishek Majumdar said his play Pah-la was shelved because of fears over an arts programme in Beijing. His play deals with life in contemporary Tibet and draws on personal stories of Tibetans he worked with in India,
The London theatre, once known for its groundbreaking international productions, is facing questions after Abhishek Majumdar revealed a copy of the poster for the play Pah-la , bearing the imprints of the Arts Council and the Royal Court along
with text suggesting that it was due to run for a month last autumn.
Majumdar claimed the play was withdrawn because of fears over the possible impact on an arts programme in Beijing, where Chinese writers are working with the publicly funded theatre and British Council.
The play was in development for three years and rehearsals had been fixed, according to Majumdar, who claimed that the British Council had pressurised the theatre to withdraw it because of sensitivities relating to the writing programme.
The Royal Court said it had had to postpone and then withdraw Pah-la for financial reasons last year, after it had been in development for three years, and that it was now committed to producing the play in spring 2019 in the light of recent
events. It added:
The Royal Court always seeks to protect and not to silence any voice. [...BUT...] In an international context, this can sometimes be more complex across communities. The Royal Court is committed to protecting free speech, sometimes
within difficult situations.
Turkish actor Baris Atay plays a dictator in a one-man show that is intended to get audiences thinking. The play has now been banned in several Turkish cities.
In Ankara, he was personally told not to perform. In addition, the governors of the northern Turkish cities of Artvin and Hopa have officially banned the play. As has Kadikoy, one of Istanbul's largest and most populous districts. It has been
claimed that his play could be a threat to public order and security.
Only A Dictator was written by Onur Orhan and is directed by Caner Erdem. Atay plays a dictator who struggles with an inner conflict. After the show, the audience is invited to form its own opinion on dictators.
The play alludes to Turkey's present government under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Supporters of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) took offense, expressing their anger on social media. Atay said he thinks the
decision to ban the play shows how much pressure Turkey's government is willing to exert on critics.
When police prevented the play from being shown in Istanbul last week, Atay alluded to his 2015 statement, asking: Do you accept that this ban means our president is a dictator?