Romans back in Britain

Sam West, the new artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, plans to revive Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain. This is the play that inspired Mary Whitehouse in 1980 to prosecute the director Michael Bogdanov “for procuring an act of gross indecency”. The scene in question was a homosexual rape. The case was eventually withdrawn, but the precedent was set that the Sexual Offences Act applies to theatre, which has prevented any theatre reviving the play.

Says West,

It is an extraordinarily brilliant play shunted into the sidelines by a preposterous legal action. It’s clearly about the history of imperialism but its brilliance lies in the way it forces us to empathise with two groups of people at the same time: both the Roman invaders and their Celtic victims who are not plucky and misunderstood but violent, crass, difficult and irreligious. What for the Romans is a tiny moment of history is from the Celts’ point of view a disaster. It’s precisely the kind of story we should be telling now in that it’s about the dubious legacy of imperialism.

A spokesman for Whitehouse’s re-named organisation, Mediawatch-UK, says,

Any revival will have to take 1980 very seriously. The precedent set then still stands, so they’ll have to consider if it’s worth including this scene.

(The quote is from today’s Independent, but I can’t get the link because their search facility is sporked. A dodgy copy can be found at Mediawatch-UK.)

5 Responses to “Romans back in Britain”

  1. tom p says:

    This is probably the first occasion when procuring a quote from mediawatch wasn’t a case of lazy journalism, and what do mediawatch do? they airbrush history. The 1980 case was thrown out of court when it was shown just how preposterous the allegations (that there was genuine intercourse on stage) were, particularly given that the NVLA (as it was at the time) ‘investigator’ had bought the cheapest possible tickets, right at the back of the theatre and so couldn’t really see what was going on.
    The only thing that they need to take note from 1980 is that they can’t include real live arse fucking, which they probably weren’t going to do, anyway, since it’s difficult to act while you’re being buggered.

  2. Andrew Nixon says:

    since it’s difficult to act while you’re being buggered.

    Speaking from experience Tom?

  3. tom p says:

    I just knew that that line would come up and bite me on the arse, as it were.
    Thankfully, I’ve never been called upon to perform any sex act (as a tabloid would put it) live on stage, with or without thespianism.

  4. Stuart says:

    ‘Scuse me for asking, but if it’s only live sex acts that aren’t allowed, then presumably onstage necrophilia is OK?
    Buggered if anyone could tell the difference with some UK actors anyway!

  5. tom p says:

    badum tish!
    i think that might be covered by its being illegal anyway