No Offence – An Evening of Readings and Performances of Controversial Works Through the Ages

The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, North London, is renowned for its hard-hitting political theatre and courageous productions. It was therefore a fitting venue for a very special event this month in aid of English PEN, which illuminated the glorious yet sorry history of texts which have been repressed or banned, from Ancient Greece to Birmingham 2005, brought to life by a star-studded cast of some of the UK’s finest actors.

The script traced 2000 years of contention between freedom of the imagination and oppressive regimes and religions. Among the highlights of the evening were Sian Thomas, brilliant as the provocative Lysistrata (Aristophanes) transported into contemporary wars by poet-playwright, Tony Harrison; Henry Goodman and Harriet Walter enacting pious Tartuffe’s seduction of Elmire; Greg Hicks, Bill Paterson, Michael Pennington and Juliet Stevenson leading the cast in electrifying scenes from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

 

The sweeping changes of the Enlightenment were given voice by Voltaire’s timeless epigrams and the achingly moving Prayer to God’ from his Traité Sur La Tolérance, 1763. Yet controversy, persecution and censorship lived on, despite the values which grew out of the upheavals of the 18th Century and their subsequent enshrinement in the Charters and decrees of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

 * After the interval the script turned to document the fraught, and in some cases tragic, events of winter 1998 / 1999 – the battle over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Then, bringing the recent controversies over the issue to the fore, Shelley King and Yasmin Wilde played a scene from Bezhti (Dishonour), Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s study of the difficult relationship between a British Sikh mother and daughter, which depicts, off-stage, rape and murder in a Sikh temple. The play was forced to close before the end of its run to satisfy Sikh protesters who objected to the subject matter. This was the first time any part of the play has been enacted since the riots at the Birmingham Rep, and the scene was loudly applauded by the audience.






Yasmin Wilde & Shelley King
Yasmin Wilde & Shelley King

The evening ended with a scene from Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new play, the charged, fascinating and deeply moving Galileo’s Daughter, performed by Greg Hicks as the Pope and Michael Pennington as an elderly Galileo faced with either the complete retraction of his seminal, and proven, theories of the cosmos – or torture and execution.

Devised by Lisa Appignanesi, Eva Hoffman and Michael Kustow, who also produced the evening, and directed by Penny Cherns, PEN and the team hope to take ‘No Offence’ to television, as part of the ongoing campaign for basic freedom of expression which the Labour Government’s policies now threaten.

Our deepest thanks to the superb cast and producers who gave so much of their time to produce such an extraordinary evening in aid of PEN, and to Nicholas Kent and his team at The Tricycle for their support of our work.

Report by Tanya Andrews and Lisa Appignanesi

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/nooffencereadingsandperformanc/

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