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No 10 condemns London theatre for hosting Black Out nights

Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson says it would be ‘concerning and divisive’ to restrict audiences based on race at Noël Coward

Noël Coward theatre plans to stage two performance for all-black-identifying audiences

Downing Street has condemned a London theatre’s decision to stage two performances of a play about slavery for “all-black-identifying audiences”.

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said it was “concerning” that the Noël Coward theatre in the West End plans to hold what it dubs “Black Out performances” during a two-month run of Slave Play, a Broadway production about race and sexuality.

The idea is not new and has taken place before in the UK, with theatres in London holding such performances for Daddy, by Jeremy O Harris, who also wrote Slave Play, and Tambo & Bones, by the US playwright Dave Harris.

Asked about the Noël Coward theatre’s plans, the spokesperson said: “The prime minister is a big supporter of the arts and he believes that the arts should be inclusive and open to everyone, particularly where those arts venues are in receipt of public funding.

“Obviously, these reports are concerning and further information is being sought. But clearly, restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive.”

Asked if this was a threat to strip public funding from theatres which stage Black Out performances, the spokesperson said: “It’s a statement of principle that clearly the arts should be inclusive. And I think that particular taxpayers would particularly expect that to be the case when public funding is involved.”

The cast of Slave Play appears during a performance in New York. For his striking scenic design, set designer Clint Ramos has earned a 2021 Tony Award nomination.

This would not appear to be relevant to the Noël Coward theatre, which is part of the Delfont Mackintosh chain of eight London theatres.

Slave Play, which opens on 29 June in London, starring Kit Harington, best known from Game of Thrones, was a huge Broadway hit when it debuted in 2019, nominated for 12 Tony awards, but was also disputed.

When Harris’s Daddy was performed at London’s Almeida theatre in 2022, the run included one Black Out night.

The producers of the upcoming production of Slave Play said their “intent is to celebrate the play with the widest possible audience”.

They said in a statement: “We want to increase accessibility to theatre for everyone. The Broadway production conceived of Black Out nights and we are carefully considering how to incorporate this endeavour as part of two performances in our 13-week run. We will release further details soon. To be absolutely clear, no one will be prevented or precluded from attending any performance of Slave Play.”

In 2023, Nadia Fall, artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, wrote a Guardian article explaining why it was holding two Black Out performances of Tambo & Bones.

She wrote: “The play throws up challenging questions around what it is to be Black, so the director Matthew Xia and I felt it would be good to host a Black Out night – an opportunity for a Black audience to experience and reflect on the play from their own perspective.”

She added: “I understand that this initiative isn’t going to chime with everyone, and that’s OK; that’s why there are 28 performances that aren’t a Black Out night. No one is excluded from attending.”

An explanation of the idea provided by the theatre at the time described Black Out nights as “the purposeful creation of an environment in which an all-black identifying audience can experience and discuss an event in the performing arts, film and cultural spaces – free from the white gaze”.

It added: “While this performance has been arranged for black audience members specifically, no one is excluded from attending.”


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