Edinburgh Fringe venue threatens to pull play about JK Rowling’s trans rows

Terf examines JK Rowling's falling-out with stars of the Harry Potter films following her public comments on gender
Terf examines JK Rowling's falling-out with stars of the Harry Potter films following her public comments on gender - FilmMagic/Bruce Glikas

An Edinburgh Fringe venue has threatened to pull the plug on a controversial play about JK Rowling’s views on trans issues, its producer has claimed.

Terf, which examines the Harry Potter author’s falling-out with the stars of the film franchise following her public comments on gender, had been scheduled for a 23-date run at St Stephen’s Theatre, a prominent Fringe venue in the Scottish capital.

However, the play, described as the most provocative to be staged at the Fringe for years, is now at the centre of a de-platforming row over claims the venue has axed the shows.

Barry Church-Woods, the play’s producer, claimed he had been told he would have to find a new venue as Peter Schaufuss, the owner of the building and a Danish ballet dancer and choreographer, had stepped in to veto the performances.

Mr Church-Woods accused the venue of “hair-trigger censorship” after the show made worldwide headlines and faced a backlash over claims it amounted to an attack on Rowling in her home city.

The play was originally titled “Terf C—” but the second word was dropped.

Terf is a slur that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which some trans activists direct at gender-critical women such as Rowling who campaign to preserve single-sex spaces.

‘Out of the building’

“We have been trying to have a conversation with him [Mr Schaufuss] but he is just saying he wants us out of the building,” Mr Church-Woods told The Telegraph.

“My understanding is he has a clause in his contract that gives him a veto on what acts perform.

“Our next step is to find another venue. At this stage we need some kind of hero venue to step in and volunteer to have this.

“We struggled to get a venue previously and if we can’t find another one we will have to put it on outside of the Fringe.”

There have been claims the play was struggling to attract actors amid the controversy.

Rowling this week said she would be “investing heavily in popcorn shares” should the producers take up an offer from India Willoughby, the transgender TV personality she has frequently clashed with online, to play her.

Mr Church-Woods has set up an online petition in which it is claimed Derek Douglas, programme director at St Stephen’s, “loved the script” but had been overruled by Mr Schaufuss.

Mr Douglas said he hoped the venue’s position over the play would become clear in an official announcement that is expected on Monday.

‘Space for reflection’

Mr Church-Woods has denied that his play is a “hit piece” on Rowling, insisting it is a “parody” that offers “space for reflection”.

He added: “Our play has now been subjected to the same censorship and stymied thinking which prevents us from having real, meaningful, and forward-thinking conversations about how to bridge our differences.”

The play is inspired by Rowling’s fall-out with the Harry Potter actors Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint over Rowling’s gender-critical views.

The actors, who went from anonymity to stardom after being cast in the films, all distanced themselves from Rowling after she spoke out about what she saw as the threat trans ideology posed to women’s rights and safety.

In April, Rowling launched a thinly veiled attack on the actors following the publication of the Cass Review, criticising celebrities who “used their platforms to cheer on the transitioning” of children.

In response to a social media user on X, formerly Twitter, who said they were “just waiting for Dan and Emma to apologise safe in the knowledge that you will forgive them”, Rowling responded “not safe, I’m afraid”.

Five previous venues are said to have refused to stage the play because of fears it would attract protests from gender-critical campaign groups, who see Rowling as a figurehead for their movement.

Promotional materials for Terf include the tagline: “She had everything… until it all went to hell in a broombasket.”

Mr Schaufuss was approached for comment.

Mr Douglas said no decision had officially been taken but declined to comment further.