A statement about the cancellation of a performance by Jane Wenham
6th Oct 2015
Our production Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern was to tour to the theatre at Ipswich High School for Girls, as part of a 2-week collaboration with Eastern Angles in which we take the show to small venues around East Anglia and Essex. This is part of a wider tour that takes in more conventional venues for week-long engagements.
The performance was confirmed by all parties in April 2015.
A month before the performance date, the school cancelled. The long-serving head of drama who made the booking had left. The new drama teacher and the headteacher decided the play was not appropriate for and “educator of girls”. Initially we were told that the inclusion of swearing in the play was inappropriate along with some of the themes. We have since heard from the school explaining that as the play talks about sex and, most specifically, alludes to child abuse, it would not be appropriate to stage it.
We made the story public because we think that any decisions akin to censorship should not be made easily or without consequence, and should be known about. We would like to set a few thoughts out on record.
Firstly, cancelling a performance a month beforehand means a loss of income for our partners Eastern Angles without the time to reschedule. Tours are booked several months ahead. This booking was confirmed in April. Tickets were to be available to both the school and the public.
Secondly, once you delve into the circumstances around witch hunts, you inevitably confront a number of troubling truths about society, then and now, because of course the fiction of witchery both masked and enabled such things. As the play shows, this included the treatment of those who are different or outsiders; the way we limit women’s lives; and yes the exploitation and abuse of young and impressionable people. It goes without saying that these are themes that remain relevant. That doesn’t mean to say they are easy themes to talk or think about, nor that we would recommend them to a class of 12 year olds. But we do not think they are ideas that to be hidden from older students, particularly within a supportive school environment.
Response from Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the writer:
“The statistics about child abuse are incredible and alarming. Most of it goes on within the family not in a park with strangers – people say ” fear the stranger” shifting the blame to some eccentric old man on a bench whilst the majority of sexual abuse goes on within the home and by a relative or someone the child knows. I feel passionately that it is a tragic part of the history and ongoing situation of women. It is now a huge and lucrative part of the internet. It is the first stage by which a girl’s sexuality is used against her.
“In writing about it in Wenham it was not gratuitous but in the hopes that any girl who is experiencing it might then feel the wrong of it even more keenly and share it. If I could make even one girl feel less alone or more prone to share through this story I would be very happy. The whole point is that the men are telling the girls they invite it, when so clearly they do not and are victims. It would be sadly impossible to suppose that no girl at any high school had been through some sort of abuse. Tragically that is statistically impossible.
So yes I talk about it. In the hopes that it creates a strength and company for anyone who has gone through such appalling abuse. Also, the level of exposure that teenagers have in terms of you tube and video games is such that they really are not naive at fifteen.
Response from Max Stafford-Clark, Artistic Director of Out of Joint who commissioned the play:
“It is deeply troubling that a play which so eloquently examines witch persecutions from a feminist perspective, and looks at the way society treated and continues to treat women, is considered inappropriate for an audience of young women. The school has also said that the inclusion of swearing is inappropriate, a policy which presumably rules out much contemporary drama or fiction for study. There is nothing gratuitous in the play. It is as frank – and as wry, humane and poetic – as one would expect from a play by Rebecca. Theatre, more than any other artform or literature, is the way we examine our world and our history, and in this case with particular imagination and honesty. The school’s decision not to learn from the past seems spectacularly perverse.
“I passionately believe the school have taken the wrong decision. Reasons for censorship are invariably cloaked in protective moral reasoning and I’m afraid are invariably wrong. As an artistic director I have myself taken several decisions which, at the time, I was able to justify but which I subsequently realised were evasive. I’m thinking particularly of Perdition by Jim Allen which was condemned by the Jewish community as being anti-Semitic when in fact it was simply highly critical of Zionism. To my regret, I yielded to the pressure and withdrew the play.”