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Controversy, thy name is...

Controversy, thy name is...

07 April 2015 | Liz Bowen

In PR, we’re used to creating campaigns that can often divide public opinion. Sometimes, that’s the very reason we do it – there’s nothing like a little heated discussion to generate brand awareness.

It’s the same for everyone I would imagine – film-makers, authors … everyone is aware of at least one subject they can broach that will cause uproar in one camp and harmony in the other. The question is whether or not they decide to do it and how far they are willing to push.

I would imagine that’s a question journalist and playwright Jonathan Maitland, actor Alistair McGowan and the rest of the team behind a new play about Jimmy Savile have asked themselves several times at least over the past couple of months.

You read that right by the way, they’re making a play about Jimmy Savile: the formerly beloved comedian who, after his death, was revealed as one of the worst sexual offenders in British history.

An Audience with Jimmy Savile is due to open in London, with impressionist McGowan tackling the lead role. It is not the first time McGowan has portrayed Savile, having previously featured him in his popular BBC series The Big Impression before the latter’s death.

Maitland has argued that three years after the abuse was revealed is the right time to bring the play to the stage.

The play draws on interview transcripts and statements provided to the police by some of Savile’s many victims and Maitland argued that the revelations of Savile’s abuse has not only changed public perceptions towards it but also the way in which such abuse is prosecuted and how survivors are treated.

In an interview with The Guardian, Maitland said: “What person would not want to explore what kicked it off?”

Some critics have welcomed the decision to stage the play, as have some of Savile’s victims.

Liz Dux, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon, who acts on behalf of 178 of the comedian’s victims, said she had met with the playwright and was satisfied the play had been produced in good taste.

Others, of course, are not so convinced, with the news setting social media ablaze.

Nevertheless, whether you agree with the decision or not, I’m sure the controversial subject topic will attract audiences in droves, just to see what it’s all about.

There will be others who will book tickets because they agree with Maitland – what did all kick it off. With the abuse being revealed after Savile’s death, there are, naturally, many, many unanswered questions – I’m sure many people will watch the play just to try and gain some form of understanding of it.

And then there will be those who vehemently boycott it.

But, whichever camp you find yourself in, there’s no doubt that the play will generate hundreds of column inches, social media characters et al in the run up to its opening in June, and even more so once the actors hit the stage.

No matter how you view the decision, let us just hope for one thing – that Liz Dux’s faith in Maitland is right and that the play has indeed been produced in good taste and is respectful to Savile’s victims.