(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/30; Photo: ‘Uniquely startling’ … Kunst und Revolution. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images.)
A history of theatre’s most controversial moments, from Jerry Springer: The Opera to Sarah Kane’s ‘unrelenting’ Blasted
Jerry Springer: The Opera
Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee (2001)
Sensationally vulgar, this musical take on the TV host was taken to court for blasphemy. Featuring tap-dancing members of the Ku Klux Klan and Jesus dressed as a baby, it was designed to distress. “For all its shock and schlock tactics,” wrote Michael Billington at the time, “the show implies that TV has a moral responsibility.” The BBC received 63,000 complaints after airing the musical in 2005.
Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations
André de Lorde (1916)
Known as a dramatist of terror, the French author presented this gory medical horror at Grand Guignol, the Parisian theatre famous for its blood-soaked stories. In this particularly gruesome production, a doctor operates on his wife’s lover, taking the opportunity for revenge by performing some bone-tingling skull chiselling.
Lynn Nottage (1995)
Intended as a satire, the comedic aspect of this play from the Pulitzer prize winner went out the window when it was staged soon after the Oklahoma City bombing. The story, which saw a group of bombers discuss an attack on a federal building, was now too close to home. Patrons ripped up their programme. It has never been staged since.
Sarah Kane (1995)
One of the most graphically violent plays ever staged in the UK, Blasted is unrelenting. A failed seduction in a hotel room gives way to passing seasons and increasing abominations, with rape, suicide, eye-gouging, cannibalism and a dead baby topped off by a mortar attack.
Alejandro Jodorowsky (1965)
Having faced censorship in Mexico, multidisciplinary artist Jodorowsky moved to Paris to form an experimental theatre collective. This grisly four-hour performance included a crucified chicken, and live turtles thrown into the audience.
The Playboy of the Western World
John Millington Synge (1907)
This lyrical comedy tells of a young runaway who claims to have murdered his father. Nationalists saw John Millington Synge’s play as an offensive caricature. Outrage was sparked in the heaving crowd while police were called to break up the brawling.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (2004)
Meaning “dishonour”, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s controversial play centred on a troubled Sikh family dealing with the shame of the father’s suicide. Its depiction of a scene of extreme violence in a Sikh temple outraged members of the Sikh community, with violent protests leading to the performance being pulled just two days after opening night.