A student production of Aida is the latest victim of the university thought police – but it won't be the last

Does Glenda Jackson playing King Lear or Maxine Peake starring as Hamlet constitute “sexual appropriation”, or is that somehow something different?

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 07 October 2016 16:22
Opera singers perform in a production of Aida at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia, Spain
Opera singers perform in a production of Aida at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia, Spain

A student production of Aida has been cancelled after complaints from activists that white actors were likely to be cast in the leading roles – and this, they said, constituted “cultural appropriation”.

Music Theatre Bristol didn’t plan to stage Verdi’s original romantic opera, but the musical written by Elton John and Tim Rice. This version focuses on the forbidden love affair between Aida, a captured Nubian princess, and Radames, captain of the Egyptian guards.

Millie Evans, a Bristol University student, led complaints on social media, writing: “it’s quite simply [sic] really: if you are going to put on a production set in a particular place with a particular cultural context, then you need to reflect that with the ethnicity of actors… if this show is put on and white washed – ‘oh let’s just add a bit of eyeliner’ – then I think that’s disrespectful, dumb and embarrassing….look at Liz Taylor in Cleopatra!!!”

I wonder what Evans made of the sell-out production staged by the same student group last year, West Side Story? Did it have the requisite racial profiling to pass Millie’s Facebook litmus test?

Faced with complaints from other campus activists, the Bristol production of Aida has now been cancelled, which seems a shame. I went to the opening night of the musical in New York back in 2000 and since then it has been translated into 15 languages, delighting audiences from South Korea, Japan and Israel to Switzerland, Uruguay and China.

This Aida is not about black oppression or racism, it’s a simple love story which transcends borders and languages. But try telling that to the thought police at Bristol University.

Surely the point of theatre is to entertain and stimulate. Does Glenda Jackson playing King Lear or Maxine Peake starring as Hamlet constitute “sexual appropriation” – or is that somehow something different?

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The people running Music Theatre Bristol ought to toughen up and just stage their show, but they seem too lily-livered. There’s a worrying (and growing) movement in our universities which seeks to promote political correctness. Speakers have been “no-platformed”, denied the opportunity to present views which might (God forbid!) cause offence.

The whole notion of “cultural appropriation” is ludicrous. It started with black students in the US moaning about white people wearing dreadlocks, as if a hairstyle can only belong to one ethnic group. The Rolling Stones have just announced they are releasing a new album on 2 December consisting of cover versions of songs originally recorded by legendary bluesmen such as Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter.

For half a century this bunch of white men have made millions of pounds playing the music of poverty stricken black artists, and who’s complaining? If that’s not cultural appropriation, I’m a taco. Will the students of Bristol University be banning Stones tracks from their parties?

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