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3 Mar, 2024 11:11

White people barred from London theater

The playwright behind ‘Slave Play’ has argued that segregation is necessary for black people to “feel safe”
White people barred from London theater

White people have been told not to attend two upcoming performances of a play about racism and sexuality in London’s West End. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office has condemned the move as “wrong and divisive.”

Written by Jeremy O Harris, who is black, ‘Slave Play’ opens in London’s Noel Coward Theater in June and runs until September. Two performances of the play – on July 17 and September 17 – are billed as “Black Out” nights, tickets for which will only be sold to “all-black-identifying audiences.”

“The idea of a Black Out night is to say this is a night that we are specifically inviting black people to fill up the space, to feel safe with a lot of other black people in a place where they often do not feel safe,” Harris told the BBC on Tuesday.

Despite explicitly asking only black people to attend the performances, Harris then claimed that “nobody is saying that by inviting black audiences here [white people] are uninvited.”

In an apparent climbdown the following day, Harris wrote on X that black people “can bring their white friends or lovers if they want.”

Sunak’s office nevertheless condemned the plan. “Clearly, restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said on Thursday. Asked by the BBC whether the government would consider stripping public funding from theaters that engage in such discrimination, the spokesperson did not offer a definitive yes or no answer.

“It’s a statement of principle that clearly the arts should be inclusive,” they said. “And I think that particular taxpayers would particularly expect that to be the case when public funding is involved.”

‘Slave Play’ tells the story of three interracial couples who engage in slave-era sexual fantasies to save their relationships. It debuted on Broadway in 2019 to rave reviews from liberal critics and got 12 Tony Award nominations, but has been savaged by conservatives, with American writer Peachy Keenan calling it the “gayest piece of woke race trash ever conceived.”

The Noel Coward Theater is not the first British institution to face backlash for hosting a ‘Black Out’ event. Last summer, London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East was hammered for recommending that white people don’t attend two performances of American playwright Dave Harris’ ‘Tambo & Bones.’ Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye, the first black man to hold his office, described the event as a “mistake” which “sets a bad precedent.”

Similar events have been held in the US and Canada.