“Salty” language and violence in a Beijing production of The Removalists has resulted in Chinese censors banning the Australian play.
The play was written in the 1970s by one of Australia’s best known playwrights, David Williamson, and was due to be performed as part of an international theatre festival in the Chinese capital.
Set in 1970s Melbourne, The Removalists tells the story of sisters Kate and Fiona, who have come to tell the police about Fiona’s husband Kenny’s physical abuse.
The play, which was later adapted into a film, explores dark themes around violence, masculinity, abuse and particularly police brutality.
Williamson said he was told both the area censors and the municipal censors had banned the play.
“And the reasons given apparently was the language was too ‘salty’ and it was too violent,” he said.
But Williamson said it was likely the real reason behind the censors’ decision was disapproval at viewers watching scenes about police brutality.
“The Chinese audience seeing police brutality grossly overstepping their line of authority is apparently something that resonates at the moment,” Williamson said.
“The themes of the play about domestic violence and about macho belligerence and about the fact that underneath the surface human beings can, if the wrong triggers are touched, awful things can happen.
“All of those larger themes I don’t think would worry them so much as the specific theme, which this society is very sensitive to at the moment.”
It is the second time one of Williamson’s plays has been produced in China.
His first, The Club, was staged in 2002 without incident.
“The Club wasn’t banned, it wasn’t deemed to be offensive to the public, it had a few salty words in it too,” Williamson said.
“There was a theory amongst some that I’ve spoken to that the salty language and the violence wasn’t the real reason the play was banned.
“There are big issues with police overstepping their authority, and my play of course deals with police overstepping their authority in a big way.”
Williamson and his wife were invited to Beijing to see the production, which was performed by Chinese actors speaking in English with subtitles in Mandarin.
The classic text has been studied by generations of Australian school students and a joint production involving the Australian Studies Centre, Peking University and the Beijing Foreign Studies University managed to perform it for university students over the weekend.
But the performance as part of a major arts festival slated for this evening in Beijing was pulled, after authorities raised their concerns.
By Antonette Collins