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Behzti Author’s Response Play Premieres in Mar

By • West End
Playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who received death threats after her allegedly “anti-Sikh” play Behzti (Dishonour) sparked off riots when it premiered at Birmingham Rep five years ago (See News, 20 Dec 2004), has written a new play about the experience.

A co-production between the Belgrade and Soho Theatres, the world premiere of Behud (Beyond Belief) will open in Coventry at the Belgrade, running from 27 March to 10 April 2010 before transferring to London’s Soho, where it will run from 13 April to 8 May, as the last play helmed by Soho’s outgoing artistic director Lisa Goldman (See News, 27 Nov 2009).

Speaking about Bhatti’s “playful and provocative” piece, Goldman said today: “We have been developing Behud for the last couple of years and it perfectly expresses what Soho Theatre has been about for me – daring, imaginative new writing with an emphasis on intercultural dialogue and pushing the boundaries of form and taste. Its generous exploration of the silencing of a playwright also reflects our passionate commitment to freedom of speech.”

Initially peaceful demonstrations involving an estimated 400 Sikhs turned violent at a Saturday night performance of Behzti in December 2004 at Birmingham Rep. Some 85 police were required to restore order and evacuate more than 800 people from the theatre when protesters stormed the building. When local Sikh leaders failed to provide assurances that there would be no further riots, Birmingham Rep cancelled the play’s run, citing safety concerns.

The incident attracted headlines around the world and prompted an ongoing debate about artistic censorship. Supporters of the play said its cancellation was an affront to freedom of speech, and more than 700 leading arts figures signed a letter in support of Bhatti, who went into hiding after receiving death threats. Subsequent attempts to restage Behzti were called off at Bhatti’s request.

Questioning the possibility of truth in the face of the communal importance placed on public honour, Behzti was a comedy set in a Sikh temple and centring on the relationship between a past-her-prime woman named Min who spends her life caring her sick, foul-mouthed mother Balbir.

In the highly autobiographical new piece, Behud, a playwright attempts to make sense of the past by visiting the darkest corners of her imagination. Set amidst the theatre establishment, politicians and protesters, Behud is billed as a response to the events surrounding Behzti, and the story of an artist struggling to be heard.

Other highlights in Lisa Goldman’s farewell season at Soho Theatre will include: Promises, Promises, a new one-woman play by Scottish playwright Douglas Maxwell (2-13 March); Raz Shaw and Georgina Lamb’s latest collaboration Gambling, based on first-hand accounts of gambling addicts (17 March-10 April); the UK’s first annual Russian Theatre Festival (1-4 February; and, as previously reported, a combined version of Bette Bourne’s A Life in Three Acts with Mark Ravenhill (8-27 February), and, another Fringe First winner from Edinburgh 2009, the Traverse Theatre production of David Greig’s “play with songs” Midsummer (12 January-6 February).


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