A roll-call of British theatre's leading lights have banded together to try and help a beleaguered Asian playwrite. Luminaries like Prunella Scales, Timothy West and Terry Jones were among 700 people who signed an open letter in defence of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, who has gone into hiding after receiving death threats from Sikh extremists.
The row centres on Gurpreet's play Behzti, which had to be closed down after provoking the rage of religious conservatives. A spokesman for the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it was showing, said they had no option but to discontinue performances following a protest which descended into violence.
Behzti, which translated into English means "dishonour", is a black comedy depicting scenes of sexual abuse inside a temple. Theatres around the country responded to the controversy by making plans to hold readings of the play followed by an open debate with those it had angered. But its author, who is herself a Sikh, has asked for the plans to be abandoned after she received further threats.
Britain's dramatic community is dismayed that the bullying tactics have worked, though. "It is a legitimate function of art to provoke debate and sometimes express controversial ideas," they wrote. "Those who use violence to silence it must be vigorously opposed and challenged. We all have the right to protest peacefully if a work of art offends us. We do not have the right to use violence and intimidation to prevent that work of art being seen by others."
Among the other celebs who put their signature to the letter were actress Sheila Hancock, Iris director Richard Eyre and Van Helsing star Samuel West.