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Sunday 5 July 2015

Letts Practice Censorship

Being a Daily Mail pundit is a complex calling: on the one hand, you’re railing against the nanny state, and cheering for freedom of choice, then on the other, telling readers that Something Must Be Done and someone, somewhere has to clamp down on something, if only to set an example. No Mail pundit embodies this strange dichotomy more clearly than the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not).
Harry Potter and the Gobshite of Arslikhan

Quent does not just write his Parliamentary sketches, which is probably as well, given it would not be difficult to find someone else to recycle his “the Labour lot were jolly ghastly and totally useless, and my hero Dave won, so there” line. No sirree, he also acts as a theatre critic, and, on occasion, an opera critic too. It was in the latter role that he found himself watching the new Royal Opera House production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.

The composer’s last masterpiece does have its longeurs - around four and a half hours of them - but Quent’s latest gripe is over one scene, where a group of Austrian soldiers, to quote Fiona Maddocks in the Observer, “first molested, then stripped, then gang-raped a Swiss villager”. There was, apparently, booing of this event at the first night. Quent was rather keen on this, as a means of imposing censorship.

A Daily Mail critic wanting to impose censorship? But then, Quent has form for this kind of thing. He tells during his article “We may go to the frequently awful Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, West London, and be confronted by the sight of a baby being stoned in its pram in Edward Bond’s play Saved”. What he does not say is that he tried his best to have that play taken off, as Dan Rebellato told at the time.

Not content with writing his review and expressing his opinion, Quentin Letts found the names of the private sponsors of the Lyric and personally rang them up, pointing out the many brutal events that take place in the play, with the evident aim of persuading them to withdraw or at least not renew their sponsorship … Yes, you read that right. A theatre critic is actually personally, directly attempting to have a theatre closed down”.

You only have to look at the headline - “Sick of sex and violence on stage? Fight back by booing: After that Opera House rape scene, QUENTIN LETTS calls for a public revolt” - to see that the intention is similar this time round. But this is not his call; nor should it be. It is down to the individual punter whether they wish to give the production their seal of approval. And the suggestion of gratuitousness was not shared by others.

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams noted “If I were complaining about a rape scene, it would be because an act of violence against women had been turned into something titillating. This scene wasn’t titillating in the least: a woman is threatened, jeered and gang raped. It was horrible and humiliating and, I thought, true to the nature of a violation and not sensationalist”. Soldiers do bad things in times of war. That is the grim reality.

But good to see that Quent is consistently prudish and judgmental.


Anonymous said...


Says it all really.

Arnold said...

Last week he ran an article titled "Only nanny state Britain could turn this glorious sunshine into a national crisis!" Even though the DM was portraying it as the End Of Days.