Religious protestors have been galvanising their efforts against another National Theatre production. While the furore surrounding Jerry Springer – The Opera kicked off long after the musical finished its premiere season on the South Bank, this time the complaints have been pouring in before a single performance of Howard Brenton’s new play. Paul, which premieres in the NT Cottesloe on 6 October 2005 (previews from 30 September), explores the phenomenon of faith through the Biblical story of Saul, who changed his name after divine revelation on the road to Damascus and was later sainted. Speaking at today’s press conference (See Today’s News), NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who has been an outspoken defender of artistic freedom, particularly surrounding last year’s cancellation of Behzti (See News, 22 Dec 2004), admitted that Paul “will not be a satisfying or comfortable play for a certain type of devout Christian”. He estimated that, to date, his office has already received 200 letters of complaint about the play, many of them following a distinct format. “They tell me I will go to hell if I don’t take the play off – but I don’t believe in hell,” Hytner said. Whether he believes or not, the letter writers “are praying for me”. Brenton, of course, is no stranger to controversy. His play The Romans in Britain, premiered at the National in 1980, became infamous for its graphic 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.
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