My plan today was to blog a great article from Mark Lawson about stage directions, and how some playwrights ask the impossible. However, the article led me to read again about one of the biggest stories in the history of the British theatre. In 1980, a play by Howard Brenton, Romans in Britain, was staged at the National Theatre in London. The play comments upon imperialism, colonialism and the abuse of power and whilst it is set at the time of the Roman invasion of Great Britain 2000 years ago, it was really a metaphor for British rule in Northern Ireland, which was at its deadliest in the 1970s and ’80s.
So what, you may ask? Well the issue was that the play included simulated male rape as well as some nudity and quite graphic violence and soon there was a moral crusade, led by a figure called Mary Whitehouse. The culmination of this was the director of the play, Michael Bogdanov, being tried in court for having “procured an act of gross indecency………on the stage of the [National] Theatre contrary to the Sexual Offences Act of 1956”.
The outcome of the case changed legal and theatrical history and was indeed a drama in itself. This first link .Passion Play is the full story and it is fascinating.
This article, Dangerous Minds, explores the whole case further.
And finally this is an interview with the playwright, Howard Brenton, 25 years later.
To top it all off nicely is a BBC video interview with Michael Bogdanov from earlier this year, the 30th anniversary of his court appearance.