Arinze Kene plays the lead role in Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical. The show, which is set to open at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue on October 1, has teamed up with the Black Ticket Project to give 1,000 free tickets to young black people.
The actor and writer said “historically” the capital’s theatreland had “not seen many people of colour in the audience”.
He told the Standard: “I’ve been seeing plays in the West End for 20 years now and when you look around the audience there are not many people who look like me.
“I find that challenging as an audience member and as an actor when I go on stage and there are more black people on stage than in the audience it is challenging.” He said he wanted to see theatres that look like the London he knows, living in Hackney, with “loads of different types of people, different religions, different accents”.
The 34-year-old, who starts rehearsals for the show on Monday, said mainstream venues could learn from smaller theatres such as the Young Vic, which has worked hard to reach new audiences and bring the community inside.
He said: “Let’s talk about it. Who you market to and who you are looking at as part of the audience all matters.
“There is no excuse, you can do the work and get people to see the show.”
The Nigerian-born Londoner said that while he expected the show to resonate with young black people, he wanted those from different ethnic backgrounds to view as much different work as possible.
“If it is good work let everyone come and see it. I’m not preaching that people of colour just come to see shows made by people of colour, it all needs to be available to all people all the time.”
Tobi Kyeremateng set up the Black Ticket Project after seeing a performance of Barber Shop Chronicles play in front of a largely white audience at the National Theatre in 2017.
She said there still needed to be a big “shift” to change the make-up of the average theatre audience in the capital, although her project has given away around 15,000 tickets since then.
She said: “People said it was activism but for me it was ‘this show is really cool and I want people like me to see it’. I just want people to go, they don’t even need to enjoy it. That’s fine for me, it’s that they’ve gone to see a piece of work and that’s enough.”