The Royal Court Theatre in London has apologised for cancelling a play by Bengaluru-based playwright-director Abhishek Majumdar, and decided to stage it in “the spring of 2019”. Titled Pah-La, the play is based on real stories, documents, pictures and biographies of people of Tibet.
Calling Pah-La a play in exile, Majumdar had taken to Facebook on January 22 to say, “It was supposed to open on 4th October 2017, at the Royal Court Theatre, in London, with its poster printed and rehearsals fixed, when the British Council China pressurised the theatre to withdraw it from opening because of a program in China that they were running together.”
He added that BCL China had apparently told the theatre that if they programmed Pah-La, they would have to stop the China workshop with the Chinese writers.
“The Theatre then assured me that this play will be programmed at a later date (possibly in the next season, which starts later this year) and now the board of the theatre has given a directive which apparently has made the artistic director put a stop to this play. This time, for financial reasons I am told although the play had been accepted for programming last year itself. Consequently, the theatre has simply backtracked on its commitment citing pressures from above.”
In a statement, the Royal Court Theatre said it “apologises to the Tibetan community for having had to postpone and subsequently withdraw Pah-la for financial reasons earlier this year”.
The Royal Court, an important institution in the world of drama that launched John Osborne and Samuel Beckett among others, added that it “always seeks to protect and not to silence any voice. In an international context this can sometimes be more complex across communities. The Royal Court is committed to protecting free speech sometimes within difficult situations. We are committed to our ongoing work with Chinese writers and we intend to place all voices on our stages.”
The poster of the play has the programming dates Oct 4-Nov 4, and the lines: “I just lit up. I did not burn. And everyone else is becoming this light, in these times of darkness.”
The play has been under development for three years. Majumdar said that the Dalai Lama had told him personally, “Write it but be prepared for a lot of resistance. Now I know what it means.”
Robert Sharp of English PEN, an organisation that defends writers whose rights to freedom of expression are threatened, had held talks with Royal Court over the issue.