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Royal Court alters character name after admitting to perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes

The show has its premiere this week

The Royal Court
© Helen Murray

The Royal Court has "apologised unreservedly" as it admits to "perpetuating an antisemitic stereotype" through one of the character names in the upcoming world premiere of Al Smith's Rare Earth Mettle.

At the end of last week, a number of social media users including director, producer and technical producer Adam Lenson, raised concerns around the name and character of affluent "Silicon Valley billionaire" figure, initially titled "Hershel Fink", in the world premiere production.

Lenson said in a tweet: "So Al Smith has taken a character clearly based on Elon Musk and when fictionalising him has given him an obviously Jewish name. Casually making a silicon valley billionaire Jewish perpetuates antisemitic stereotypes and will cause ideological harm."

The Royal Court penned an initial apology on social media, though this in turn drew a degree of frustration: critic Jay Rayner responded with a tweet stating: "This from the Royal Court needs detail. The name of this character who isn't Jewish but is a manipulative millionaire was Herschel Fink. It's not unconscious bias on the part of the theatre, the director Hamish Pirie and the playwright Al Smith. It's textbook anti-Semitism."

You can read that initial post here:

Playwright (not the writer of Rare Earth Mettle) Laura McGrady said in a tweet: "If I'm believing that no one noticed the problem here… which, I'm not. I'm not believing that at all. Then am I supposed to believe that writers give characters names from specific cultures or origins without even noticing??? Seems a reach to me."

Writer David Baddiel also tweeted, saying: "Apparently the Royal Court claim they didn't realise "Hershel Fink" was a Jewish name. Hmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world conquering billionaire."

Writer and director Patrick Marber also said: "Regarding your statement. The name ‘Hershel Fink' is not ‘antisemitic'. But you are."

The venue then followed up with a lengthier statement, which has been pasted below: "The Royal Court Theatre apologises unreservedly for this situation. It was a mistake, it shouldn't have happened, and we are sorry it did.

"We stand in solidarity with our Jewish staff, artists, audiences and friends and are grateful to those who got in touch to communicate that the character named Hershel Fink was perpetuating an antisemitic stereotype. In response, the writer has decided to change the name to Henry Finn – this will be effective from the first performances next week, and we shall reprint all communications and the play text with this change.

"Now we are looking towards the dialogue that will help us reflect on the process that enabled the name to remain and what is missing in our systems that would have mitigated this unnecessary harm. Our anti-racism work is current and ongoing, and this experience proves once again how necessary and wide that work must be. We will work hard now in the hope of building trust and confidence within our Jewish community."

Musical director Nick J Barstow said in a tweet on Sunday: "I think that Royal Court has shown that the initial mindset of their response to criticism was ‘make the problem go away' and not actually consider how they created the problem. I stand in solidarity with all Jewish theatre-makers who will have been affected by it."

Author Keiron Pim also said: "Grimly amused by the fact that Henry Finn sounds exactly the kind of name a 20th century Jewish immigrant called Herschel Fink would have chosen to try to assimilate over here. Well done, you anglicised him!."

Lenson also tweeted once more: "This apology from the Royal Court will probably satisfy casual observers. But maybe ask the Jewish artists who have spent the day trying to get the world to empathise with this act of systemic racism if it satisfies them? It doesn't satisfy me."