There are no winners out of the stand-off between the Birmingham Rep and the Sikh community. Only losers. Sikhs have lost their reputation for calm and common-sense – at least for the time being in Birmingham. Instead, they have positioned themselves just where groups such as the BNP and the National Front would like them to be – with the extremists, on the wrong side of the law.
The Birmingham Rep has certainly lost out. In all my years of involvement with the Rep, I cannot think of an occasion when a play has been closed because of public protest. By giving into mob law, they have failed to live up to their artistic convictions. But they were probably wrong to stage it in the first place. It is very difficult to see how staging a production with this kind of theme set explicitly in a religious and ethnic minority community could do anything but end up in the way it has done.
It reveals how very out of touch the ‘arts’ are with popular feeling. And this is not simply in spite of but probably because of the relentless (and tedious) addiction to political correctness which pays lip service to ethnic inclusiveness but only in terms of changing the words we use to describe things, not setting out to learn what people really think.
There is much to applaud in what the Rep has been doing over the last few years. From ‘Frozen’ onwards, which put child-rape and child-murder onto the stage while the Fred West killings were still in the news, the Rep has been trying to commission challenging new drama which could rival the scope and daring of the best of London theatre.
Birmingham has lost out, marred with more ethnic minority violence less than two years after the murder of Letitia Shakespeare and Charmaine Ellis on New Year’s Day 2003.
Where do we go from here? Back to free speech balanced with the free speaker’s responsibility to guard the dignity of others? If only. Instead, the story becomes grist for the mill in the ‘Inciting Religious Hatred’ debate. We are led inexorably onward to the nanny state.