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Censorship row erupts in Spain over a play where actors appear in just underwear

The theatre companies organising the play 'Qué dificil es' say the local government cancelled their performances because actors appeared in boxers.
The theatre companies organising the play 'Qué dificil es' say the local government cancelled their performances because actors appeared in boxers. Copyright Courtesy: La Mandanga, Los 90 Producen
Copyright Courtesy: La Mandanga, Los 90 Producen
By Anca UleaJuan Carlos De Santos Pascual
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Two small theatre companies in Toledo say local right-wing parties PP and Vox cancelled their play because actors performed in their underwear, saying it “scandalised the public”.

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Two small theatre companies in Spain’s Toledo region have complained they are being censored by the local right-wing government, after one of their plays was cancelled for “scandalising the public” because actors performed in their underwear.

The play, “Qué dificil es (How difficult it is),” is a co-production between Los 90 Producen and La Mandanga, and was set to hit stages across the Castilla-La Mancha Performing Arts Network starting 27 January.

But the right-wing City Council in the small town of Quintanar de la Orden removed the play from its cultural programming, saying it “would scandalise the public,” according to the companies’ complaint.

“We think it’s a shame that in 2023, culture continues to be censored, freedom of expression continues to be silenced and that there can be an attack on culture on this scale,” José Manuel Maciá, an actor, co-writer and co-producer of the play, told Euronews.

A flyer for the play "Qué Dificil Es," which is at the centre of a censorship row in Spain.
A flyer for the play "Qué Dificil Es," which is at the centre of a censorship row in Spain.Courtesy: La Mandanga, Los 90 Producen

The council member who cancelled the show never even saw the play being performed, according to the complaint.

Quintanar de la Orden's local government is led by the conservative People’s Party (PP), with support from the far-right party Vox.

Culture Councilor María del Carmen Vallejo, who was named in the complaint as the council member behind the cancellation, played down the criticism. 

She said the play wasn’t cancelled because it was scandalous, but rather because the content “is not to the public's taste.”

“It is common to book a show and cancel it either because another show convinces you, or because you are not convinced by the selected show when you see the trailer offered by the Theater Network,” Vallejo said.

The cast of the play "Que Dificil Es (How Difficult It Is)".
The cast of the play "Que Dificil Es (How Difficult It Is)".Courtesy: La Mandanga, Los 90 Producen

A play about more than just underwear

The play tells the story of four actors in a dressing room who find out from their director that their play has just been cancelled. (“A bit prescient isn’t it?” Maciá says.)

“It takes place in a dressing room, that’s why the characters are in their underwear,” he said. “But come on, have you seen the pictures? Those boxers practically look like swimsuits.”

It’s about more than just the underwear, though, Maciá said. The play also addresses important issues like bullying, parenthood, mental illness, and even depression and youth suicide.

“Everyone who has come to see us is delighted because in addition to having a few laughs, they always leave with something meaningful,” Maciá says.

"We never, ever received a complaint from anyone, not one comment about the actors' costumes, or anyone saying they were offended or shocked, as this woman says, by the fact that we were in our underwear."

Maciá says that the financial repercussions of the show’s cancellation aren’t clear just yet, and that the companies have received support from other municipalities that say they’re interested in putting on the play.

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A scene from the play "Qué Dificil Es," which was cancelled because the actors performed in their underwear.
A scene from the play "Qué Dificil Es," which was cancelled because the actors performed in their underwear.Courtesy: La Mandanga, Los 90 Producen

Support pouring in from across Spain

The case has attracted media attention across the country, with Spain’s left-wing coalition government quickly jumping to defend freedom of expression.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez denounced what he called “censorship” by PP and Vox and said during a plenary session in parliament this week that their actions are “very serious.”

“While this government is committed to culture, the PP and Vox governments are committed to censorship,” added Socialist Party spokesperson Patxi López.

The Minister of Culture, Ernest Urtasun, said he is “concerned” about the recent cases of censorship in Spain, including this recent example in Quintanar de la Orden, and that his office would take “strong” action against any form of cultural censorship.

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“There are ridiculous things like cancelling a play because some men appear in their underwear, which seems totally despicable to me,” he said in comments to Europa Press. “About this, I can say that the Ministry of Culture is going to respond forcefully."

The support they have received has been encouraging, Maciá says, and the companies hope their story will help protect other cultural groups from dealing with similar censorship.

“We are not the first, but we hope to be the last and that from now on no one in Spain will ever censor anything, especially not the culture of this country, and especially for an issue that you can’t make head nor tail of.”

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