Theatre groups concerned at 'arts police' rating plays

THEATRE companies performing in Strathclyde are increasingly concerned about the activities of an 'arts police', who monitor productions for bad language and controversial subject matter, such as homosexuality or violence.

Two arts officers from the region's 'cultural support team' have been giving cinema-style age ratings to theatre productions.

Plays in the Festival of New Irish Theatre, which opens in Glasgow this week, have been vetted by the arts officers and several are designated as unsuitable for school-age audiences. The ratings will be given to the region's secondary schools in a newsletter.

Details of individual ratings for plays first appeared in the Herald newspaper in Glasgow. The Lament of Arthur Cleary, by Dermot Bolger, a play seen at the Edinburgh Festival in 1990 and which has been performed twice at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, has been deemed unsuitable for under 16s, because the word 'fuck' appears in the script three times. Justice, by Hugh Murphy, has been given an over-18 rating. It is set in Belfast and is highly critical of police violence in the Province.

Patricia Brogan's award-winning play Eclipsed was designated over-16. Its subject matter is unmarried mothers forced to work in convent laundries during the 1960s.

Strathclyde Region said there was 'no truth' in reports that arts officers were being employed as censors. They were to 'give guidance' to 'avoid disappointment or negative reactions' by school and community groups, but this was 'in no way' proscriptive, the region said in a statement.

The arts officers were described by one Strathclyde Region source as 'merely the PBI (poor bloody infantry) . . . the real policy is generated from far higher up'. Before the start of the Irish theatre festival, companies using venues in Glasgow were asked to submit scripts of their work. Last month, several schools withdrew group bookings from a production of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. 'Higher levels' in the region's education office are believed to have responded to complaints about its stylization of violence.

A spokesman at the Tron Threatre in Glasgow, which is staging plays for the festival, said: 'As they say in the theatres, this problem is going to run and run.'