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Bishop calls for ‘offensive’ posters to be removed

Bishop Arthur Roche

The Bishop of Leeds has urged a theatre to withdraw an “offensive advertisement” for a play about incest which features a Pietà.

Bishop Arthur Roche wrote to Ian Brown, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, to protest against the poster, which uses an image of a statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ to advertise a play about the incestuous relationship between two siblings.

A huge banner displaying the poster on the side of the theatre has now been replaced with a banner that reads: “Judge the Play, Not the Poster.” But hundreds of posters around Leeds have not been taken down.

In his letter to Mr Brown, Bishop Roche wrote: “You will undoubtedly be aware of the considerable disquiet and outrage that your company’s advertisement of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is causing to Christians.

“I feel sure that such a profound insult to people of Christian faith and sensibilities was not intended by your company, but I would urge you now as a matter of courtesy to remove the offensive advertisement from public view.”

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is a controversial 17th-century tragedy which offers an uncritical account of incest.

A spokeswoman for the theatre said that it was “discussing all possibilities”. She said that the West Yorkshire Playhouse had replied to the bishop personally as well as issuing a public statement on the matter.

She said the theatre “regrets any upset that the image” may have caused which she said was never the intention. The scene was intended to depict a sacristy.

She said: “Originally set in 17th-century Italy and in our production Italy of the 1960s, the religious faith of the characters is integral to the development of their stories and we felt it was important that this was reflected in any image chosen to promote the production. The poster is intended to represent a sacristy. The focus of the image, and therefore at the centre of the poster is the picture of the children holding hands, the suggestion being that candles are being lit and prayers given in the sacristy for these children.

“All complaints received by the Playhouse regarding this issue are being dealt with accordingly and we are taking all enquiries into this image very seriously. As with any campaign when rehearsals start we begin looking at alternative images, these will be used for other promotional material and on our website. It is testament to the power of this play that nearly 400 years later, the title ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore can still cause such controversy.”

John Grady, the diocesan spokesman, said the Playhouse’s line was that the diocese misread the poster and would not take the posters down. He said the poster featuring Our Lady with the crucified Christ juxtaposed with the play’s title was a marketing ploy.

He added: “The poster is offensive. The approach of Holy Week makes it calculated”.