What do they know of theatre who only theatre know?
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
Censorship in Shanghai
The latest news of a silly act of censorship offers a neat example of how explosive an artist’s words can be. Pete Wyer wrote a new ballet, The Far Shore, for the Shanghai Expo, but the performance was cancelled by the British Council when they saw that it was dedicated to the people of Tibet. Apparently, according to these idiotic cultural mandarins, artists should be seen but not heard. Likewise, the English National Ballet — who were due to perform the piece — support the British Council in saying that the ballet is “a political vehicle”. Well, that’s a surprise, isn’t it? Art is political sometimes, but anyway this was just the dedication of the piece: no one on stage mentions Tibet! Of course, China is very sensitive to criticism of its role in oppressing the people in Tibet. And we don’t want to upset the Chinese do we? It just seems that the British Council are being unduly pusillanimous and lamentably cowardly. They deserve to stew in their own bad bile. As Wyer says: “It is standard artistic practice for a composer or artist to dedicate their work to whoever or whatever they like. In this case I dedicated the work to the Tibetan people and their culture – a culture that is appreciated by many Chinese people in China, too.” Quite.
“There’s nothing more terrifying than a teenager with something to say! You mark my words gel, you’ll be running this country! Even if you’re too pig ignorant to see it now!” (Glenda in Clara Brennan’s Spine)
Aleks Sierz is author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber, 2001), The Theatre of Martin Crimp (Methuen Drama, 2006), John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (Continuum, 2008), Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today (Methuen Drama, 2011) and Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s (Methuen Drama, 2012). He is editor of The Methuen Drama Book of 21st Century British Plays (2010) and co-editor (with Martin Middeke and Peter Paul Schnierer) of The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights (2011). He is a member of the UK Critics' Circle and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. A journalist, broadcaster and theatre critic at large, he is also Senior Research Fellow at Rose Bruford College and teaches postwar British theatre at the London branch of Boston University.