Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti is back, after almost ten years.
The last time I was at the Birmingham Rep, I was advised by West Midlands police to leave the building. Protests against my play Behzti (Dishonour) were becoming increasingly heated and I was told I was in danger. I arrived home in London, and hours later a police officer called to inform me of a threat to abduct and murder me. I laughed in disbelief. He didn’t laugh; he told me to get out of my flat.
The next day, after a huge demonstration outside the theatre, the Rep pulled the play. I was devastated. As the author I felt strongly that I had placed myself in the firing line, that I could and should endure the venom of the protesters. But when the Rep cancelled Behzti, it shattered me.
All because her play made “the Sikh community” look less than perfect.
My experience showed me that freedom of expression is precious, both as a gift and a right. When it is taken away, there is nothing left but abject, depressing silence. The only way of filling the void is to create anew. If artistic institutions honestly want brave work, then they must do as artists do – overcome fear in order to say what others cannot and will not, whatever the cost.
I passionately agree with the principle but have no idea if I would be able to perform it in practice. Hats off to Bhatti.