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Equity adds voice to condemnation of Print Room ‘yellowface’ casting

Christine Payne, Equity general secretary Christine Payne, Equity general secretary
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Equity has condemned fringe venue the Print Room’s “unacceptable” casting of Caucasian actors in a play set in ancient China, claiming its decision fails to engage with the industry-wide discussion on diversity.

The Print Room, based at the Coronet in Notting Hill, recently announced casting for Howard Barker’s In the Depths of Dead Love. Four white actors were cast in the show, which is advertised as being set in ancient China and features Chinese character names.

Following criticisms on social media, the Print Room defended its decision, describing the play as a “very English one” and arguing that it was not about Chinese society or culture.

Equity’s ethnic minority members committee said that black, Asian and minority ethnic performers were “caught between a rock and a hard place” as a result of decisions such as the Print Room’s, as well as those of others that exclude BAME performers from classic plays.

Last year, director Trevor Nunn came under fire for casting solely white actors in a production of Shakespeare trilogy The Wars of the Roses, later claiming he did so to be true to the time the play is set.

“[They are] 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. We believe that British theatre as a whole should embrace the union’s Play Fair campaign and its principles of inclusive casting,” a statement from the ethnic minority members committee said.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne also criticised the theatre’s response of accusations against it, adding: “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.”

The union said it had invited the Print Room and the production’s creative team to engage in a dialogue, to improve understanding of unconscious bias and inclusive casting.

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