Homegrown: NYT scrapped play over ‘extremist agenda’

A play exploring the radicalisation of young Muslims was scrapped by the National Youth Theatre over concerns about its “extremist agenda”, according to a newly-released email. The NYT’s artistic director Paul Roseby argued that Homegrown contained “no in-depth analysis, balance or debate around extremism. Instead [it] seems to be exploring where to place the hatred and blame”. The email was released via a freedom of information request.

Written by Omar El-Khairy and directed by Nadia Latif, Homegrown was inspired by the story of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London, who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State in February. It was due to be staged at a school in Swiss Cottage last month but was cancelled with 10 days notice, prompting outrage from the play’s creative team, who said “voices have been silenced without explanation”.

The theatre industry also expressed anger, with playwright Sir David Hare and actor Simon Callow among those demanding an explanation, in an open letter to the National Youth Theatre. The signatories said they were “deeply concerned” by claims the theatre may have been put under pressure to cancel the performance.

The play, which had a cast of 112 young people, mainly from ethnic minorities, was supposed to explore the motives of radicalised teenagers and attitudes to Islam in the UK. But in his email to the Arts Council, Roseby said the production was: “Clearly very one-dimensional in tone and opinion, without, as of yet, any intelligent character arcs justifying the content”.

Roseby also mentioned the use of “insensitive” and “inappropriate” language in the rehearsal rooms, and said that two parents had expressed “grave concern over the direction of the piece”. The complaints, he added, had led him to believe that the NYT had “to make a swift decision to prevent any damage or risk to NYT’s reputation and membership”. Latif said the email confirmed her suspicions about the reasons for cancelling the production.