U.K. Prime Minister Blasts ‘Slave Play’ Shows for All-Black Audience

Reuters/Lesley Martin
Reuters/Lesley Martin

The office of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims he’s taking a closer look at the London production of Slave Play after it marketed select “Black Out” nights at the theater where show-goers could watch the production “free from the white gaze.”

A statement from Sunak’s office said the theater’s decision to market two shows to Black audiences only was “wrong and divisive.”

“The Prime Minister is a big supporter of the arts and he believes that the arts should be inclusive and open to everyone, particularly where those arts venues are in receipt of public funding,” read the statement.

The statement added that “further information is being sought,” but didn’t specify what repercussions—if any—the production might face.

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The play, which was written by Jeremy O. Harris and explores themes of race, identity, and power dynamics, is being hosted by London’s Noel Coward Theatre, which receives funding from the British government. It’s slated to run there for 13 weeks, with a cast that includes Game of Thrones star Kit Harington.

Only two shows were marketed as “Black Out” nights in London, comprising just a sliver of its total shows in the city. The U.S. production of the show, on Broadway, offered similar nights that weren’t met with outcry from local officials in 2019.

In a statement addressing Sunak’s scolding, the show’s producers said they wanted to be “absolutely clear” that “no one will be prevented or precluded from attending any performance.”

“We want to increase accessibility to theater for everyone,” read the statement. “The Broadway production conceived of Black Out nights and we are carefully considering how to incorporate this endeavor as part of two performances in our 13-week run.”

A promotion for the two nights, on July 17 and Sept. 17, said they were the “purposeful creation of an environment in which an all-Black-identifying audience can experience and discuss an event in the performing arts, film, athletic, and cultural spaces.”

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NBC News reported that Black Out nights have occurred previously in the U.K., most recently at performances for Daddy, also by Harris, and Tambo & Bones.

Harris detailed the rationale for Black Out nights to BBC Radio earlier this week, saying they’re created to make “Black people feel safe with a lot of other Black people in a place where they often do not feel safe.”

“As someone who wants and yearns for Black and brown people to be in the theater, who comes from a working-class environment, and so wants people who do not make over six figures a year to feel like theater is a place for them, it is a necessity to radically invite them,” he said.

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