West End show ‘carefully considering’ black-only nights after criticism from PM

The producers of a West End show are “carefully considering” plans to hold evenings aimed at black-only audiences following criticism from Downing Street.

Slave Play, which features Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington among the cast, will run from 29 June to 21 September at the Noel Coward Theatre in London.

It is set to include two performances aimed at an “all-black-identifying audience” that is “free from the white gaze”.

Similar “Black Out” nights were held during the show’s run on Broadway in New York in 2019, with organisers describing them as “private, invitation-only events”.

Kit Harington at the Oliviers
Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington is among the ensemble cast. Pic: PA

The West End move was announced earlier this week, with the “Black Out” events confirmed to be taking place on 17 July and 17 September.

But when asked about the plans on Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s official spokesperson said: “Restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive”.

However, organisers said they would not “prevent or preclude anyone” from attending and said “nobody” had been turned away in the past.

They told Sky News in a statement: “As the producers of Slave Play in the West End, our intent is to celebrate the play with the widest possible audience. We want to increase accessibility to theatre for everyone.

“The Broadway production conceived of Black Out nights and we are carefully considering how to incorporate this endeavour as part of two performances in our 13-week run. We will release further details soon.

“To be absolutely clear, no one will be prevented or precluded from attending any performance of Slave Play.”

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On Friday morning the website for the play showed that, on the “Black Out” dates, tickets were available to buy for a matinee performance on 17 July, but not an evening performance.

No ticketed show appeared to be scheduled for 17 September.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said on Thursday: “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.

“Obviously, these reports are concerning and further information is being sought. But clearly, restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive.”

‘No colour bar’

Slave Play is written by US actor and playwright Jeremy O Harris, with Banana star Fisayo Akinade and Denzel Washington‘s daughter Olivia Washington also among the cast.

After being accused by some social media users of being “racist against white people”, Emily In Paris star Harris wrote on X: “I don’t have to imagine the roles were reversed in my grandparents’ lifetimes AND WORSE.

“I’m not even saying BLACKS ONLY I’m saying I’m inviting black ppl first! They can bring their white friends or lovers if they want. There’s no colour bar. But one existed in the UK recently!”

Slave Play was nominated for 12 Tony Awards for its Broadway run and tells a story of “race, identity and sexuality” at a plantation in the southern US during the early 21st century.

During a 2019 “Black Out” staging of the play in New York’s Golden Theatre, all 804 seats were used by black-identifying theatregoers, according to organisers.

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