Theatre News

Slave Play producers issue statement around black out performances in the West End following Downing Street comments

The plan for “black out” nights emulated the success of the project on Broadway

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Artwork for Slave Play

West End producers of Jeremy O Harris’ eagerly anticipated Slave Play have issued a statement regarding the plan for “black out” nights during the show’s West End run.

The show, which received the most Tony nominations of any play ever, will star Fisayo Akinade and Kit Harington for its London spell.

“Black out” nights (set for 17 July and 17 September) which have occurred in London theatres like Theatre Royal Stratford East, Almeida Theatre and the Yard, are described by the production as “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 – free from the white gaze.”

Harris brought the concept to Broadway during the production’s New York run, with the show stating that “for the first time in history, all 804 seats of Broadway’s Golden Theatre were occupied by Black-identifying audience members in celebration and recognition of Broadway’s rich, diverse, and fraught history of Black work.”

The plan for black out nights has been covered extensively in tabloids and other newspapers since the show’s announcement earlier this week, with the government also getting involved in the matter.

A Downing Street spokesperson said today: “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… these reports are concerning and further information is being sought. Restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive.”

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

Despite these comments, the show is set to be staged at the Noël Coward Theatre, a venue owned by Delfont Mackintosh, a private company.

Empire Street, who have brought the show to London, countered in their own statement, refuting the suggestion that audiences will face any restriction to access: “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.” The show has also emphasised that no one will be turned away during these evenings.

As mentioned above, “Black Out” nights are not unprecedented and have taken place across a number of venues in the last half decade. Further updates are to be expected.

Harris also issued a response, saying: “Hey 10 Downing Street and Rishi Sunak… there’s literally a war going on…maybe the death of thousands of Palestinian children should be more “concerning” than a playwright attempting to make the West End more inclusive to those who aren’t historically invited there.” 

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Slave Play

Performances begin: 29 June 2024