Trailer for ‘deeply offensive’ all-male production ruffles feathers

The Importance of Being Earnest at Mac Belfast
The Importance of Being Earnest at Mac Belfast
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The trailer for an all-male production of The Importance of Being Earnest in Belfast has been accused of entrenching homophobia and sexism.

Criticism came after the MAC in Belfast posted a trailer for Bruiser Theatre Company’s production, which sees cast members in period costumes delivering lines from Oscar Wilde’s play.

Theatremaker and composer Conor Mitchell, who founded artist collective The Belfast Ensemble, wrote on Facebook: “As an openly gay man living in Northern Ireland, I find this deeply, deeply, deeply offensive.”

Mitchell criticised the trailer for exacerbating the stereotype of gay men, comparing the trailer to the Black and White Minstrel Show and to racist jokes made by comedian Bernard Manning.

Speaking to The Stage he said: “Gay men in Northern Ireland may not give blood, politicians regularly call us abominations, so it’s a difficult enough situation. People need to be quite cautious when approaching anything on that subject. When the production team, the director and the producers are heterosexual they have just done this thinking that men in drag talking about Oscar Wilde putting on witty English accents is funny. But it’s not.”

He added: “I am not saying the production is anti-gay. That theatre has a track record of gay work, female work - a really good track record, if not one of the best in the country. The company, Bruiser, has single handedly saved live musical theatre in Northern Ireland. These guys have good records. But something has gone wrong, because somebody somewhere saw that video and went ‘put it out’. I don’t think it’s anti-gay, I think it’s misjudged. Gay rights need to stand up in the theatre over here and say that’s not ok.”

Writer Jenifer Toksvig also condemned the trailer, saying on Twitter: “Awful to cast this male when so few great parts for women, especially older. Also deeply offended some of my gay male friends.”

In response to Mitchell’s comments, a statement from the theatre said: “This is the first in a series of promotional videos for the play and our intention was certainly not to cause offence or provoke anyone.”

The theatre insisted that its aim was “to open up conversation on the issues of gender, sexual equality and same-sex marriage in 2017”.

It went on to say: “Having an all-male cast is not a gimmick, but is a creative decision and one we hope will spark the kind of conversation and debate which we very much encourage here at the MAC. Our production of The Importance of Being Earnest is intended to be representative of tolerance and inclusivity. It will celebrate Oscar Wilde, a man who dared to be true to himself during a time that acceptance and inclusivity was virtually impossible. We would ask that people do not judge the play without seeing it, and not on the basis of one promotional trailer.”

Mitchell replied to the statement: “I have never heard of somebody okaying a trailer as controversial as that and saying ‘it has nothing to do with the show, judge it on the production’. If the trailer does not reflect the production, remove the video.”

When asked if he will see the production, he said: “No. Absolutely not.”

Actor Ross Anderson-Doherty, who plays Lady Bracknell in the production, explained in a public comments thread on Mitchell’s Facebook page: “We’ve had many discussions about this as a cast and I guess I just want to note that we are not unaware or dismissive of the many issues our casting brings up… it's an important conversation and one with which I'm keen to engage.”

The production runs from March 24 to April 15.

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