NT Faces More Protests Over England People???Date: 2 March 2009
Onstage fights at the National Theatre are nothing new, but playwright Richard Bean witnessed the real thing on Friday during a discussion of his controversial play England People Very Nice when two protesters mounted the Olivier stage to accuse him of racism.
Playwright Hussain Ismail, an east Londoner of Bangladeshi origin, led the protests, and was swiftly followed onto the stage by Irishman Keith Kinsella. The men shouted “Richard Bean is a racist” and waved placards before being forcibly evicted by security staff.
England People Very Nice has been the cause of much controversy, with some commentators criticising the play for its depiction of ethnic stereotypes. However, other critics came out in staunch defence, including the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer who wrote: “Complacent Cockneys get it in the neck just as much as amorous Frenchmen, bog-Irish peasants, Jewish anarchists and today's radicalised young Muslims who pay court to hate-filled preachers.” (See Review Round-Up, 12 Feb 2009).
Ismail claims that Friday's protest followed director Nicholas Hytner's refusal to comply with his demands for a public debate. In an article for the Guardian website last month, Ismail wrote: “After much to-ing and fro-ing with various administrators at the National Theatre, I've finally been allotted a meeting with Nicholas Hytner … I will be taking a mixed delegation of artists from the East End to hear whether staging this piece is justified. We will be demanding a public debate with Bean and Hytner, and a right to reply posted on the National Theatre's website”.
Although the National has witnessed protests before, such as against its recent acceptance of sponsorship from energy company Shell, this is the first time that protesters have made it onto one of its stages. Ismail has said that protests against England People Very Nice will continue, and has threatened a boycott of NT season sponsor Travelex.
There are two further debates scheduled by the NT - ‘Immigration in Literature’ on 15 April and a discussion about the play led by Nicholas Hytner, which will be free to attend, on 17 April.
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