The title of a new musical – The Assassination of Katie Hopkins – is designed to provoke a reaction. And it has succeeded, not least from the woman herself. But its creators say the show is not what she – or the audience – might expect.
“We wish Katie Hopkins nothing but a long and healthy life.”
Chris Bush, the writer of The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, is spelling out the fact that her show is neither about how brilliant it would be if the right-wing controversialist was bumped off, nor is it encouraging anyone to help her meet that fate.
Bush will make this clear several more times during our interview, just to get the message across.
Her show does begin with news reports about Hopkins’ imagined killing.
And Bush admits her own politics are “to the left” – but insists the musical is “not leftish wish fulfilment”.
Instead, the writer says, after the opening, her musical goes on to use the bitter fallout from that fictional event to examine burning issues in society, like free speech and the increasing polarisation of public debate.
“I sort of hope she comes to see it,” director James Grieve says. “Because it won’t be what she thinks it is, it won’t be what she expects it to be, and I’m genuinely fascinated about what she’d think about it.”
Is she invited? “I hereby invite her.”
If Hopkins does join the audience at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, north Wales, she’ll see a story that follows the characters of two young women in the aftermath of her “assassination”.
One is Kayleigh, a charity worker who comes around to the view that Hopkins was misunderstood and underestimated, and joins the Justice For Katie campaign.
The other, Shayma, is a trainee human rights lawyer who is seeking justice for a dozen fruit pickers who died in a fire on the same day, but whose stories get eclipsed by Hopkins’ death.
“The main things we’re looking at are free speech and how news spreads and is discussed online,” composer Matt Winkworth says.
Hopkins has carved out a place as a vocal outrager of the British mainstream, regularly courting controversy with her views on immigration, religion, race and crime.
She’s no stranger to death threats, and in a court case last October, a woman who was convicted of terrorist offences said she fantasised about Hopkins’ beheading.
Hopkins herself has described the play’s title as “an invitation”, and asked why it was her name in the title and not “a woman of colour or a Muslim man”. She declined an interview request to speak about the musical.
“It absolutely isn’t an invitation,” Bush says. “However much we might disagree, we wish no ill will to her.
“Unless you think Death of a Salesman is encouraging people to go and kill salesmen, then a show called The Assassination of Katie Hopkins is in no way an invitation or an incitement.”
Women ‘judged more harshly’
Explaining the decision to single her out, the writer says: “It’s important that this show is focused around a woman, because controversial, outspoken women are still judged far more harshly, and held to much different standards in the public eye than men are.
“That’s something that’s worth digging into and exploring.
“It needs to be a divisive figure in terms of how it challenges how we have respect for the dead and how we value life. The Assassination of David Attenborough would be a very different show.”
Bush goes on: “The reason why we wanted a figure from the right rather than the left is actually because we wanted to challenge, among other things, a certain type of leftist hypocrisy which goes, ‘I abhor violence against anyone, but would make an exception for Katie Hopkins.’ And we’re calling that out.”
So, those audience members who go because they actually quite like the sound of the act in the title will have their prejudices challenged, she says.
No middle ground
And the writer promises that those who have already taken to social media to express strident views on the title – either way – will find that the show isn’t what they expect.
The story will look at what’s acceptable for us to say and why so much public debate is so vicious and voluble, with little middle ground seemingly left.
“That’s indicative of the form of 280-character Twitter, but in a two-hour stage musical you can do the deep dive into those arguments and show the shades of grey within it,” Bush says. “Which feels like a really important thing.”
Grieve speaks of Hopkins as a “pioneer” of the media, who has forged a career as a polemicist who speaks directly and largely free of editorial control.
And he believes that, after taking advantage of free speech to build her persona, Hopkins should be able to handle the fact she’s the subject of the show’s title.
“In tackling a public figure like Katie, I think you have to do so on her terms,” the director explains. “She’s kind of created the playing field and what we’re doing is going, ‘Yeah, all right, we will play on it.’ So I think we’re using her vernacular.”
Using her name also allows the show’s creators to highlight and deconstruct the “liberal echo chamber”, he says.
‘Anger and death threats’
“This will be a completely pointless exercise if it did not acknowledge and indeed interrogate and satirise the fact that there is a prevailing feeling among certain elements of the left that violence is wrong – unless it’s against right wingers, in which case it could be potentially acceptable,” Grieve says.
“And that’s a really problematic ideology. But it’s an ideology that we see played out actually on Twitter in response to the title of this show.
“For all the anger and the death threats and the Americans wading in with KKK banners in their Twitter avatars, there’s also been a lot of slightly smug, left-leaning commentary that goes, ‘Shame it’s only a play.'”
Grieve has had “a couple” of death threats himself from Hopkins supporters who object to the title. That’s before the show has opened.
‘Shouting ever louder’
He says its makers have been “defended and attacked with equal levels of ferocity, even though the vast majority of people who are talking about us the moment have never met us and have no idea what we’re doing or who we are as human beings”.
He continues: “This is what the show’s about. This bizarre point that we’ve reached in society where the only way people feel comfortable being oppositional is to take the absolute extreme oppositional view.
“What seems to be happening to us as a society is that we seem to be shouting ever louder at each other across an ever widening void. And that means the conversation is making less and less sense.”
Although she’s usually one of those shouting the loudest, Grieve would like to know what Hopkins makes of the show.
“I’d absolutely love to hear her review,” he says.