Martin McDonagh: Theatres have refused my plays over unpalatable language

The playwright Martin McDonagh has said theatres have refused to revive his work because he would not allow changes to the language.

He blames “petty outrage” for some venues wanting to make his plays more “palatable”.

It is a “major problem”, he said, and a “dangerous place” for writers.

McDonagh’s film The Banshees of Inisherin was nominated for nine Oscars earlier this year.

His 2003 play The Pillowman, which concerns a writer imprisoned by a totalitarian state, is being revived in June on London’s West End starring Steve Pemberton and Lily Allen.

The free speech charity PEN International has launched a partnership with the production to support “many of the values we promote such as the need for tolerance, critical thinking and informed debate”.

Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in The Banshees of InisherinIMAGE SOURCE,PA MEDIA
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McDonagh’s film The Banshees of Inisherin won four Bafta awards and stars Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan

“Only in the past few years have I had theatre companies refuse to do my plays, because they don’t like some of the wording in them,” McDonagh said.

They wanted to make some words “more palatable to them or what they think their audience is”, he said, despite him being “an established writer who sells tickets”.

There was a backlash after the publisher of Roald Dahl’s stories announced some wording would be changed to make them suitable for modern audiences.

The decision was reversed in February after high-profile authors including Salman Rushdie called the move censorship and the prime minister’s spokesperson said works of fiction should be “preserved and not airbrushed”.

McDonagh has long courted controversy with his fictional work.

In 2006 he told the New Yorker magazine that his play The Lieutenant of Inishmore was the result of “trying to write a play that would get me killed”.

The play satirised an IRA paramilitary returning home and violently avenging the death of his cat.

Martin McDonagh at this year's Oscar-awards ceremony.IMAGE SOURCE,EPA
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McDonagh’s most recent film The Banshees of Inisherin won four Bafta and three Golden Globe awards

Despite the case of Salman Rushdie, who long faced death threats over his work and was stabbed last year, McDonagh said writers should not fear threats of personal injury because “it might not actually exist anyway”.

He told BBC Radio 4: “I do think it’s a good idea to write something that’s dangerous or explosive.”

McDonagh said state-sponsored censorship of writers is “not getting any better”, adding: “It seems like governments are becoming increasingly more scared of dissenting voices.”

A new production of his play The Pillowman will star Pemberton and Allen because they are “cool people and quite dangerous in their own art forms as well”, he says.

“I think it’s a very frightening time,” he added, suggesting new writers should “get off social media”, “stop checking the internet” and “go out and outrage”.

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