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Slave Play writer criticises star casting but Kit Harington to feature in West End run

The writer of Slave Play, the controversial Broadway production about race and sexuality that caused protests and broke Tony nomination records, has criticised commercial theatre’s dependency on casting celebrities, saying it turns performances into a “Disney World attraction”.

Jeremy O Harris said star casting – hiring big-name TV, film and even social media stars to perform in the West End and on Broadway – could dilute the theatre experience and was no guarantee of success.

He said: “There’s a lot of people making theatre now who think commercial theatre can only be made if you have someone who’s on the biggest TV show or the biggest movie ever, with the marquee name as the reason for you to buy the ticket. I don’t believe in that.”

“It’s something that takes away from great theatre because people treat it like a Disney World attraction, where the play is background to the amusement of seeing their favourite celebrity in front of them.”

Slave Play will come to the Noël Coward theatre from 29 June to 21 September and will feature its own star name from the world of television.

The West End transfer of Harris’s record-breaking production will star Kit Harington, best known to millions of Game of Thrones fans for his performance as Jon Snow in the HBO drama.

Harris said he would not have agreed to his casting if Harington had wanted to “make it the Jon Snow Experience” and he had been impressed with the actor after he was recommended by another Game of Thrones star, Gwendoline Christie.

“Kit was saying ‘I don’t want this to be “Kit Harington in Slave Play”, this is an ensemble play and I’m not even the lead,’” said Harris. “He knows the weight his name carries and how that could become a distraction, if we allowed it to be.”

Slave Play, which Harris wrote while he was in his first year at the Yale School of Drama, became a huge Broadway hit when it debuted in 2019 but was also controversial.

There was a petition to have it cancelled, with those signing saying the play – set at an “antebellum sexual performance therapy” workshop where three interracial couples attempt to reinvigorate their relationships while role-playing being on a plantation – made light of chattel slavery and left at least one audience member “offended and traumatised”. Despite the criticism, Slave Play managed a record haul of 12 Tony nominations in 2021, although it didn’t win any.

Harris has had work performed on a London stage before. His play Daddy, which starred Claes Bang at the Almeida in 2022, was well received and again looked at sexual and racial dynamics, this time in the art world.

Harris said British playwrights such as Sarah Kane, Caryl Churchill and Winsome Pinnock were among his biggest influences. He said: “It’s very exciting to say goodbye to a play that opened so many doors for me in London among a community of people who inspired me to take chances on myself and write differently.”

The playwright said he was thankful for the work of Black British writers and directors such as Arinzé Kene, Tyrell Williams, Natasha Gordon, Ryan Calais Cameron and Kwame Kwei-Armah, who had made a West End transfer of his play easier.

“One of the things I’m very conscious about is that America, compared to the UK, a lot of the discourse around racism in this country is imported from America,” he said. “Often Black British writers who are writing about racism don’t feel they are getting producer support.”

Harris criticised theatres that used star casting and “celebrity as the leverage to empty people’s bank accounts” by pricing out certain audiences. Slave Play’s West End run includes 30 pay-what-you-can tickets starting at £1 and 10 seats priced at £20.

There will also be two Black Out performances, evenings on 17 July and 17 September when the theatre is open to an “all-Black-identifying audience” to watch the play “free from the white gaze”.

Harington, who played Henry V at the Donmar Warehouse in 2022, will join Olivia Washington, Fisayo Akinade and Aaron Heffernan, as well as the original cast members James Cusati-Moyer, Chalia La Tour, Annie McNamara and Irene Sofia Lucio. Robert O’Hara will direct.

Slave Play is at Noël Coward theatre, London, 29 June–21 September [Source]

admin | Feb 27, 2024

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Welcome to Kit Harington Network, your ultimate online resource for British actor Kit Harington who is best known for his role as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. We aim to provide you with all the latest news, images & so much more on Kit. Feel free to bookmark us and follow us on Twitter for our latest updates!


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