Royal Shakespeare Company director criticises ‘disgraceful’ racist backlash to Black cast

RSC artistic director Erica Whyman said she was ‘saddened but not surprised’ by the comments received from a ‘minority’ of people

Louis Chilton
Thursday 20 January 2022 09:26
Patrick Stewart reads Shakespeare's Sonnet 1

The artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company has condemned the racist backlash to a new production of Much Ado About Nothing.

The production features a Black cast, and reconceptualises the text as an Afro-futurist vision.

Per BBC News, artistic director Erica Whyman said she was “saddened but not surprised” by the reaction, which came from a “minority” of people.

“The idea that Shakespeare’s plays belong to one group and not to another is nonsense,” said Whyman, addressing the “disgraceful” backlash.

The new production of Much Ado announced its cast back in December. The lead roles of Benedick and Beatrice will be played by Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry respectively.

“It’s a responsibility for a cultural organisation like mine to make sure we’re not just representing Black culture on our stage but actually trying to to properly understand what has been missing from our cultural world,” said Whyman.

In 2020, the RSC issued a statement in response to criticism of a production of Romeo and Juliet focusing on the diversity of its casting.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ restages Shakespeare’s text within an imagined Afro-futurist world

“We will not stand by when ignorant, hurtful responses are posted publicly. We must call them out as what they are: racist,” said the company.

Much Ado About Nothing opens at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre on 4 February.

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