Theatre; Fury over 'racist' black play

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The Independent Online
A NATIONAL tour of a black theatre company's latest production has been dogged by tyre slashings, bomb hoaxes and threats to the lives of the actors after Afro-Caribbean pressure groups demanded the show be withdrawn.

Slave Babies, produced by the Blue Mountain Theatre Company, is a boisterous farce about racial tension between a Jamaican family and the Nigerians who live next door, but pressure groups have seen the play as an attack on black unity.

The problems began when Blue Mountain's own publicity campaign, featuring a leaflet bearing cartoons of a gorilla, a white man lashing two black men, and a pig in a Rastafarian hat, led to complaints by members of the public.

Since the show's premiere on 18 April at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, members of the company have been subjected to threatening phone calls. On the opening night, 40 protesters, some masked, jeered at the arriving audience. Between the opening night and the second night, 12 tyres were slashed on company vehicles, and during the run of nine performances there were seven bomb threats.

The protests continued after the play began its tour of the provinces. The manager of the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, where the show played on tour, received a death threat, and the play's sponsors, rum importers Wray & Nephew and the Jamaica National Building Society, withdrew their support and placed advertisements in the ethnic press apologising for the offending leaflet. William Reeson, manager of Jamaica National, told the Weekly Journal that "nasty threats made on our staff" had influenced the decision.

A loose coalition of organisations including the National Black Alliance, the Black History Group and the Pan-African Congress formed the "ban Slave Babies campaign" and covered the play's venues with posters which described the company as "house negroes under the control of a white woman Boss".

All these organisations deny responsibility for the nastier anonymous protests and blame them on shadowy splinter groups.