A production about the UK’s far-right movement was pulled after just two previews following complaints from its own cast members that the play was racist.
Originally called The Bold Knights of Britain, The Ununited Kingdom was being produced by theatre company Silent Uproar and was intended to shine a light on the rise of the far right in Britain, by focusing on a teenage girl who joins a gang with racist tendencies.
It was pulled after just two previews at Hull Truck and ahead of a planned run in London.
In a cast of five, there was only one non-white actor, Omar Baroud. He was cast initially to portray a variety of Muslim characters including a shopkeeper, and a Muslim at a mosque who spoke no English.
He told The Stage he had problems with the way the original script, by Joseph Wilde, represented Muslims, particularly as the actions of the far-right characters went unchallenged. He also questioned the people from minority backgrounds being made caricatures by a white writer.
He said: “You wouldn’t show a play about the Nazis and not show the Jewish side of the story”, adding that the production felt like a platform for “racist rhetoric” and that no research had been done into the experiences of Muslims who are the victims of the racism depicted in the play.
The writer eventually left the production a few days into the first rehearsals, with the theatre company then taking it on itself to improvise the bulk of the play over the following two weeks.
But Baroud continued to feel uneasy with the way the play portrayed the racism suffered by the UK’s Muslim population.
Emma James, who also appeared in the play as the lead female, told The Stage that the initial script presented non-white characters “in the most 2D” way.
She said: “I am not black or a BAME actor, but I have a responsibility. We are talking so much at the moment about white privilege and what that means. No one was speaking up and saying ‘This is wrong’.”
She added: “This is about understanding your privilege as a white person. As an actor it’s about empathy and you can’t see a fellow cast member being broken and not stand up for him. It was staggering how a lot of the other actors… were not willing to sacrifice or put their privilege on the line for him.”
Alex Mitchell, artistic director at Silent Uproar, told The Stage the company’s ambition “was to create a theatre piece to illuminate and interrogate far-right extremism”.
“Working with a range of artists, we tried and tested several approaches to make the show. After a challenging rehearsal process and two public previews it was clear the production was not good enough and we had failed to create the work we had originally envisioned. We decided to stop,” he said.
He said that all contracts were honoured and payments were made in full.
“We will try again. We will fail better,” he added.
Writer Wilde said the play “was written in response to the alarming surge in ethno-nationalism and Islamophobia” He raised concerns that the actors involved had not read his play before being cast, claiming this would have enabled them to “make an informed decision about taking the part.”
“It is about the mindset of those drawn to the far-right; the dangerous way in which narrative can be used to co-opt identity for extremism; and how a lack of positive ways to express identity can lead to toxic aggression,” he said.
He added: “These are sensitive and emotional issues and an already challenging subject area was complicated by a very problematic creative process. Consequently the play never quite fulfilled its potential but I stand by the intentions.”