As The Print Room’s controversially cast production of Howard Barker’s In the Depths of Love opens this week, here’s a guest contribution from Daniel York.
I actually sat down and read In The Depths of Dead Love last night.
If anything, I’m even more angry now. The argument put forth by the Print Room is that, although the play is set in ancient China and the characters have Chinese names, the characters are not “Chinese” and it’s a very “English story”.
Is this true? Well, there are a lot of “deep bows” and talk of emperors but reading the work leaves me wondering just exactly how ethno-specific a play would have to be before the people who programmed and presented this one would consider that, yes, we might just have to cast some actors who aren’t actually Caucasian and middle-class.
The thing that really does disgust me, though, is the Print Room’s argument that they should have the right to cast “the best actors for the roles, independent of ethnic origin”. Leaving aside that being “independent of ethnic origin” appears to be a privilege that only applies to white people, we have the Print Room citing Christopher Hurrell’s defence that, “the characteristics [Barker’s play] seeks in actors are not social, cultural or ethnic—they’re technical, aesthetic and artistic.”
Let’s just pause there. Would it have to be written in pidgin English before the demands were relegated to “social, cultural or ethnic”?
And this is what is utterly despicable about the whole argument I’ve had so many times in the past and, I hope, not too many more in the future: the sheer racial and social snobbery embodied by organisations like the Print Room and the Wrestling School when they assert that they cast “the best actors for the role”. What they’re actually saying is “you little ethnics just aren’t up to the job”.
This would be bad enough but we’re now all pretty much certain that they never met or considered any actors of any other ethnic background other than white Caucasian for this production. This play which was produced on the radio in 2013, which Christopher Hurrell maintains was given a reading at the Print Room in 2013. They’ve had FOUR YEARS to develop this. FOUR YEARS in which it looks as if they never once even considered casting actors who weren’t white. I presume, they never once considered that actors who weren’t white Caucasian were up to the “technical, aesthetic and artistic” demands of the play.
The racial and social snobbery is compounded by the Print Room alleging that the protests have come from “some members of the public” when in fact it’s mainly members of the theatre community. When they argue that the references to China are merely “oblique”. When they give trite lectures about The Great Man being a “fabulist” whose work “is poetic and often difficult to pin down in time or place”.
Yes, we do understand all those things. Because we’ve actually read a few books too. We understand the arguments perfectly because, believe it or not, we’re “artists” as well.
And, as artists, we politely but firmly reject this cultural ethnic elitist high-handedness.
Please join us in in our protest this Thursday Jan 19th. If you can’t physically make it (or even if you can) please partake in the “thunderclap” social media protest.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.