Under threat of protest action from ever-busy religious fundamentalist group Christian Voice, Howard Brenton’s controversial play The Romans in Britain tonight (8 February, previews from 2 February) receives its first major revival in more than 25 years at Sheffield Crucible, where it has a limited season to 25 February (See News, 23 Jun 2005).

The play, which premiered at the National in 1980, draws parallels between the modern presence of British troops in Northern Ireland and Caesar’s ancient conquest of this island. However, rather than its political provocativeness, it became most famous for one scene of male-on-male rape, which inspired campaigner Mary Whitehouse to instigate a private prosecution (later dropped) under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956. Whitehouse’s followers also harassed the original director Michael Bogdanov and his family.

A spokesperson from Sheffield Theatres told Whatsonstage.com today that, although the management has received “no definite statement of intent” from the right-wing Christian group that has waged a long-running campaign against Jerry Springer – The Opera, complainants have called local radio stations and threatened picketing at tonight’s opening.

Actor-turned-artistic director Samuel West, who directs The Romans in Britain, the first production he’s directed since taking over control at Sheffield from Michael Grandage last year, says the play’s infamy is “absolutely not why we’re doing it…. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. We felt very strongly that the controversy surrounding that particular scene somehow obscured the fact that Howard had written a sweeping, epic drama of our times.”

The Sheffield cast features Tom Mannion (pictured) as Julius Caesar, Raad Rawi, Dan Stevens, Mark Rice-Oxley and Guy Williams. The production is designed by Ralph Koltai, with costumes by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Peter Mumford, choreography by Michael Ashcroft, sound by Gareth Fry and music by Jason Carr.

- by Terri Paddock