White theatregoers in London were urged to stay away from a play about African American history so that black audience members could enjoy the performance “free from the white gaze”.
The Theatre Royal Stratford East, in east London, has caused uproar after it told white people to stay away from a “Black Out” performance of the Tambo & Bones play on July 5.
Although the theatre claimed that “no one is excluded”, it went on to make it abundantly clear that white people would not be welcome at the performance that tells the story of a pair of African Americans on a journey from mistrels to rappers, who ultimately join the Marxist Black Lives Matter movement.
“While this performance has been arranged for Black audience members specifically, no one is excluded from attending,” a description for the ‘Black Out’ evening on the theatre’s website stated.
“A Black Out night is 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,” the theatre explained.
“It’s hilarious, it’s provocative… it’s got a hip hop concert in the middle”. Can’t ask for more than that!
We sat down with @Excalibah, director of TAMBO & BONES, to find out more about the show
Book now: https://t.co/Pg5iQdng5u pic.twitter.com/5cmKdVX2rX
— Stratford East (@stratfordeast) May 4, 2023
In comments provided to The Telegraph newspaper, Britain’s first black police and crime commissioner (PCC), Festus Akinbusoye said that excluding people based on race would “poor and dangerous precedent” and therefore “strongly urged” the theatre and director to cancel the ‘Black Out’ event.
“Society is richer and stronger when an understanding of each other’s cultures and stories are shared and heard,” the PCC for Bedfordshire said. “However I believe the Black Out concept runs contrary to this education and enrichment ethos.”
“As a lover of theatre performances – Hamilton being a recent one I attended – it was a great experience being able to share this with people of all races and cultures,” Akinbusoye continued. “Despite its majority black or visibly ethnic minority cast, I would not have watched it if it had been a ‘Black Out’ performance.”
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The director of the British run of the play, Matthew Xia stressed the supposed need for having a white free evening in London, reportedly writing in promotional material: “Over the last few years, a number of playwrights and directors in the US and the UK have created private and safe spaces for black theatregoers to experience productions that explore complex, nuanced race-related issues.
“I felt that with a play like Tambo & Bones which unpicks the complexity of black performance in relation to the white gaze, it was imperative that we created such a space.”
The theatre also defended the decision to hold a white-free performance, with a spokesman saying: “Black Out night is an initiative which started on Broadway and has been taken up by several London theatres, the spirit of which is congregation, celebration and healing.
“Tambo & Bones, staged at Stratford East, is a bold new play, a satire which actively explores race and what it is to be black. We have chosen to embrace this initiative for one performance, during the play’s month-long run, as a space for black audiences to experience the play as a community.”
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