Theatre News

The Print Room responds to yellowface casting claims

Howard Barker’s play is set in ancient China

The Coronet in Notting Hill
The Coronet in Notting Hill
© Zadoc Nava

The Print Room in Notting Hill has released a statement in response to claims that its production of Howard Barker's In the Depths of Dead Love featured yellowface casting, the practice of using non-Asian actors in Asian roles.

The play, which is set in ancient China and tells the story of an exiled poet, features a cast of four, all of whom are Caucasian.

Talking on Twitter, Harry Potter actress Katie Leung who was recently seen in iHo at Hampstead Theatre, said: "This is not okay @the_printroom. Especially now. We are here. We exist."

The Print Room responded with the following statement: "In the Depths of Dead Love is a very simple fable; it is not a play that tells a Chinese story, it is not about Chinese society, culture or perspectives. If it were, the casting would be very different, naturally.

"Whilst the characters have been given Chinese names, that is to reference the abstract and the folkloric idea of the universal; we could just as easily be in the metaphorical area of Hans Christian Anderson, or, alternatively, the land of the Brothers Grimm.

"It is, in fact a very ‘English’ play and is derived from thoroughly English mores and simply references the mythic and the ancient. It has therefore been cast accordingly.

"This dark comedy was first presented by BBC Radio 3 in 2013, supervised by Howard Barker, starring Richard E Grant and Francesca Annis, to great acclaim."

"We acknowledge that some publicity materials seem to have permitted the possibility of a misapprehension arising. Print Room remains committed to diversity and inclusiveness in all we do, as our history shows."

Vera Chok, who featured in Kenneth Branagh's Plays at the Garrick season, has also commented on the casting, saying: "Whitewashing seems ok if it's done to pale, yellow folk. Would this happen in black or south asian settings?"

In a recent report on diversity in British theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber claimed the industry was ‘hideously white’ and expressed fears for the future of British theatre unless it reflects the diversity of the nation’s population.

Update: Equity’s general secretary Christine Payne has responded to the Print Room’s statement: "The Print Room’s statement is completely unacceptable on a number of levels, not least of which is the suggestion that an 'English' play must be completely white."

Equity's Minority Ethnic Members Committee added: "Equity's BAME members are caught between a rock and a hard place: excluded from one play because of 'historical authenticity' and from another because it's an 'English' play 'metaphorically set in a foreign country'. This casting clearly shows that the Print Room is not engaging with the industry-wide discussion on diversity."