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‘Restricting audiences on basis of race wrong and divisive’, says Downing Street

Downing Street has said the idea of black-only audiences for some nights of a West End theatrical production is “wrong and divisive”.

Slave Play at the Noel Coward Theatre, which features Game Of Thrones star Kit Harington among the cast, will have two performances aimed at an “all-black-identifying audience” that is “free from the white gaze”.

Organisers of Black Out shows say they do not “prevent or preclude anyone” from attending and “nobody” has been turned away in the past.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman 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 that was an implied threat about withdrawing taxpayer support, the spokesman said: “No, it is a statement of principle that clearly the arts should be inclusive.

“And I think that taxpayers would particularly expect that to be the case when public funding is involved.”

Previously, the Government blocked the approval of Northern Irish rappers Kneecap for a music grant.

Slave Play, written by American actor and playwright Jeremy O Harris, also has Banana star Fisayo Akinade and Denzel Washington’s daughter Olivia Washington in the ensemble.

The MET Gala 2019 – New York
Slave Play is written by American actor and playwright Jeremy O Harris (Jennifer Graylock/PA)

Defending the staging, Emily In Paris star Harris wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “I don’t have to imagine the roles were reversed in my grandparents’ lifetimes AND WORSE.

“I’m not even saying BLACKS ONLY I’m saying I’m inviting black ppl first! They can bring their white friends or lovers if they want. There’s no colour bar. But one existed in the UK recently!”

Previously staged on Broadway, the play was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and tells a story of “race, identity and sexuality” at the MacGregor Plantation in the southern US during the early 21st century.

In 2019, all 804 seats of Golden Theatre’s staging were used by black-identifying theatregoers, according to the Black Out initiative.

The production, playing from June 29 until September 21, will stage the two Black Out nights on July 17 and September 17.

In addition, every Wednesday from June 26 at 10am there will be 30 tickets released for the performance priced at £1, while on the morning of each performance there will be 10 seats priced at £20 each.