Edinburgh Fringe in yellow face row as play branded ‘publicly licensed racism’

Yellow face row
Yellow face row

The Edinburgh Fringe is facing calls to introduce “guidelines” for next year’s festival after a yellow face row in which Asians claimed to have been subjected to “publicly licensed racism on stage”.

The campaign group British East and South East Asians working in the Theatre and Screen industry (BEATS) took issue with Tea Ceremony, a play in which a white male actor, Marios Ioannou, appears as a geisha, a Japanese hostess trained to entertain men.

The group claimed that the show, which sees Ioannou wear white face paint, deployed “unashamed yellow face” which it described as “extremely triggering and traumatic” to those who “bear historical weight” of historical abuses.

BEATS said that while “no one wants rules” at the Fringe, “surely there can be guidelines” to prevent what “we can only describe as publicly licensed racism on stage.”

Marios Ioannou appears as a geisha with white face paint in Tea Ceremony
Marios Ioannou appears as a geisha with white face paint in Tea Ceremony

However, the show’s producer has rejected any accusations of racism in the show and Ioannou, a Cypriot performer, also insisted the claims were unfair.

“I am in contact with the Japanese people who worked on this performance, because they did work on it and they didn’t believe it was inappropriate,” he said. “We are working on an answer from all of us.

“It is a very big discussion about cultural appropriation in art, and we are happy to open up a dialogue. But I was surprised this was not spoken about while we were there, only after we left, which is not very nice.

“There will be another staging of the Tea Ceremony in London, so it would be good to sort things out before that. We were not racist, so it was a very unnecessary comment.”

This year’s Fringe was hit with another censorship row following the cancellation of a show by the comedian Jerry Sadowitz, after just one performance, after he used racist language and exposed himself on stage.

‘No wish to see a sanitised and conservative fringe’

Supporters claimed the controversial elements had been a well-established part of his act for decades and that when on-stage Sadowitz is depicting a character.

The Tea Ceremony play sees the geisha begin to question her role as a servant and entertainer and “leads the audience on a journey of modern-day abuse, child labour, human trafficking, torture and slavery, and the high price we pay for our joy and greed.”

The statement from BEATS said: “We have no wish to see a sanitised and conservative fringe.

“The problem is, though, that with outdated racist performance tropes, a sanitised and conservative fringe is exactly what we get.”