NYT's Homegrown:  radicalisation & islamophobia from a teenager’s perspective

NYT's Homegrown:  radicalisation & islamophobia from a teenager’s perspective

Posted on Sep 18, 2015

Guest blog - NYT's Homegrown cast member and director on how the production was cancelled.



Homegrown, commissioned earlier this year by the National Youth Theatre (NYT) , and createdby director Nadia Latif and playwright Omar El-Khairy was set to be an immersive play, set in an east-London school, that was to explore how young people become radicalised and misconceptions about Muslims in the UK. The cast of 113 young actors and members of NYT were set to perform the play for two weeks in August of this year.

Paul Roseby, the artistic director of the National Youth Theatre, interviewed back in June, said the decision to stage it in a borough central to the story of the three east-London schoolgirls believed to have travelled to Syria in February, and to use a cast mostly aged 15-17 would give the piece a rare honesty and poignancy”.

“It is not going to be an immediate retelling of that story because we don’t know all the facts. Instead, what Nadia and Omar are drawing on is the fears and misconceptions around Islam in this country and the obvious racism that is happening as a result of the actions of ISIS, and so they are working on this piece with the idea of redressing the balance.”

However, just days before its first performance in August, in true dramatic form, NYT management announced that the show had been cancelled. The reasons for the cancellation are unclear; NYT claim one thing, the show’s writer and director say another.


Here’s what one member of the cast, a 17 year-old schoolgirl,  had to say about the decision.

"As a member of the National Youth Theatre involved in the production of ‘Homegrown’, islamophobia, xenophobia and radicalisation are subjects I feel particularly interested in.

After having this production pulled only two weeks into rehearsal, despite the play being cut short, my interest was not. I feel as if I still have so much more to learn – but more importantly, so do many, many others. The levels of ignorance surrounding such complex and life-changing issues, like radicalisation, is shocking. A production like Homegrown could have changed this."

What was Homegrown hoping to achieve

"Homegrown was set to explore attitudes towards Islam in the UK, with a cast of over a hundred 15-25 year olds from across the country, we focused on examples such as the 3 girls from Bethnal Green who travelled to Syria to join ISIS. Find out more about the three girls here.

Labelled the ‘most timely’ production this year by Time Out Magazine, Homegrown certainly had a buzz around it. Being part of the cast was like being in on a really juicy secret. We all knew that it was going to be a good production and were anticipating the reactions and social change that we hoped Homegrown would spark. So, it’s no surprise that 10 days before our opening night, we were in complete shock and devastated when the production was pulled by the National Youth Theatre for ‘unknown reasons’. To find out more information about Homegrown, click here. 

The cancellation of Homegrown was called ‘censorship of the arts’ by a large portion of the media. The definition of censorship is ‘the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.’ This does feel pretty accurate – the message we hoped we would be sending out was considered dangerous, harmful and politically inconvenient, apparently. As much as I wanted to argue that this wasn’t the case and that theatre is meant to be all of the above, I felt powerless."



"Personally, the thought of travelling abroad without my family to a place full of uncertainties, absolutely petrifies me. Not knowing whom I was meeting, where I would be staying, what would be expected of me – these unknowns aren’t something I could face.

Now, this may be a given coming from someone who gets goosebumps when thinking about plane food, but how many seventeen year old girls do you think would feel the same way? Okay, sixteen years old? Fifteen? As a country, when we have girls as young as fifteen travelling abroad to join one of the most dangerous organisations ever, we have to understand WHY they would do such a thing.

Their reasons should be understood, not dismissed as ‘Muslim extremism.’ Yes, ISIS may be a Muslim extremist group but these young school girls from Bethnal Green were not. They weren’t born extremists, no one is. Nor did they grow up surrounded by terrorists and extremists… from the looks of it, they had a fairly normal education and upbringing.

But something caused them to make the huge decision to go and we can’t just umbrella that under ‘extremism’. The causes of radicalisation need to be examined and understood, not swept under the carpet." 


We asked the Director, Nadia Latif, for her thoughts on this and her comments were this:

"At the beginning of this year the National Youth Theatre approached us with an idea for a show – to create a large-scale, site-specific, immersive piece looking a the radicalisation of young British Muslims. Homegrown was intended to be an exploration of radicalisation, the stories behind the headlines and the perceptions and realities of Islam and Muslim communities in Britain today. We weren't force-feeding our views to mindless young people, but exposing an astute and thoughtful young cast to the full spectrum of voices who are currently having that very conversation about radicalisation. Rehearsals were brilliant, on schedule, and exceeded all our expectations. We were filled with nothing but admiration and deep respect for our amazing brave cast – who were really taking the material and running with it.

We were then exactly halfway through rehearsals when we received an email late at night from NYT to tell us that Homegrown was cancelled. We would have done our first full run of the show two days after that. There was no warning, no consultation and no explanation.

There's qualitative differences between a show pulled due to pressure exerted by particular groups or communities and Homegrown, which came under the watchful gaze of both formal institutions and arms of the state. There's no question that had the show been cancelled due to Muslim rage, then we would be celebrated as contemporary Salman Rushdies – courageous bastions of free speech fighting off conservative or reactionary forces within our imagined communities rather than as either incompetent artists or unrefined agitators. We're all making art in a particular political climate – which includes Prevent and Channel. These are programmes which, although intended to stop people getting drawn towards violent extremism, are creating an environment in which certain forms of questioning of the given narrative pertaining to radicalisation or extremism can be closed down. If the acceptable parameters of this discussion are to remain that of inarticulate, mad mullahs in one corner, self-hating Ayaan Hirsi Alis in the other, all refereed by think tank dwellers such as Maajid Nawaaz – then this vital conversation will continue to go nowhere."


The final thoughts from Homegrown's cast member:

"We need to speak about extremism and radicalisation, and more importantly, adults need to listen to young people’s views, concerns and beliefs on such issues. I understand that there is now a Prevent duty on organisations and bodies working with young people to create safe environments for us to explore these issues – but sadly, apparently not through the medium of theatre."


It isn't flick learning's intention to take a viewpoint on this situation as we're not well enough informed to do so. Rather, it's about raising the debate and, more importantly, we want to ask:

What will you be doing to speak, explore and understand about extremism and radicalisation in your school or college?


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