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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 22:05 GMT
Protest play could find new venue
Police at Birmingham Rep
Three police officers were hurt in struggles at the theatre
Bosses of a second Birmingham theatre and a London theatre are considering staging a play cancelled after demonstrations by Sikhs.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre dropped Behzti, which depicts murder and sex abuse in a temple, on safety grounds after protesters clashed with police.

A company based at the city's Old Rep theatre says it will stage the play if it is not reinstated.

The Royal Court theatre in London says it may also stage the play.

Neal Foster, of the Birmingham Stage Company based at the Old Rep, said the decision to cancel the play had been made by "cowards".

He said if the Rep could not be persuaded to reconsider its decision to drop Behzti he would produce the play.

When one stands with 800 women and children and sees stones being thrown and police officers injured, then safety issues come to the fore
Stuart Rogers, Birmingham Rep

"The story cannot end here. I think freedom of expression is more important than health and safety.

"I think it's one of the blackest days for the arts in this country that I've ever experienced."

The Royal Court has a copy of the play and could stage it next year.

Ramin Gray from the Royal Court said: "Irrespective of the quality of this play I think we have to see it."

Religious hatred

The Rep cancelled Behzti after three police officers were hurt in clashes with about 400 demonstrators outside the venue on Saturday.

The protest took place as crowds came to watch a Christmas play for children in another part of the theatre.

Cancellation notice at Birmingham Rep

West Midlands Police said it had always been prepared to protect theatre-goers and the decision to close the play had been entirely down to the theatre.

Nicholas Hytner, the National Theatre's artistic director said: "The giving of offence, the causing of offence, is part of our business."

The government's proposals for laws to ban incitement to religious hatred had been blamed for exacerbating the protests.

But Fiona Mactaggart, Home Office Minister for Race Equality, said the planned law would have not had an effect on the row over the play.

"Nobody is suggesting this play (Behzti) incited racial hatred of the Sikh community."

But she said the Home Office would look at the policing implications following the demonstration.

Sikhs 'upset'

The Rep's executive director Stuart Rogers defended the decision to drop the play.

"When one stands in the foyer with 800 women and children and sees stones being thrown and police officers injured, then security and safety issues come to the fore. They have to."

Mohan Singh, from the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in south Birmingham, said: "It's a sad fact, but it's a very good thing that (The Rep) has seen common sense on the issue.

"But the fact of the matter is that it has taken things to become violent before it happened."

Behzti, which translates as "dishonour", was written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatt, and was said to have been inoffensive to many younger Sikhs.

The events leading up to the play's closure

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