London’s Icarus Theatre Collective has pulled its controversial production of Romeo and Juliet “with immediate effect” , and cut ties with its casting director, after a row broke out over both the proposed casting and the setting of the play in the Nazi era.
The theatre company’s artistic director, Max Lewendel, whose father was a Hidden Child during the Holocaust and whose grandmother was murdered by the Nazis, said that Icarus, an award-winning company, “apologised and are deeply sorry for the offence and pain we caused to the Jewish community”.
The company “recognise that we’ve made mistakes that have resulted in the Jewish community and Jewish artists feeling excluded and being hurt”, he said..
The concept of the Icarus production was to have a Jewish Juliet, a member of the Capulet family, who falls in love with a member of Nazi Youth, Romeo from the Montague clan. But when a casting call was made on social media there was no mention of the idea of Jewish actors taking roles in the play.
Additional outrage was expressed at the idea that Jewish Capulets and Nazi Montagues were on equal footing, despite an insistence by Icarus that, contrary to Shakespeare’s famous opening lines, “these are not two households both alike in dignity.” It is understood that the play was being radically edited to show a lack of balance between the two families and to ramp up the disparity until one family destroyed the other.
One critic complained that it was “‘a deeply misguided project”, adding: “Romeo and Juliet as the story of impossible love in the Holocaust? Using the Holocaust as framing for ‘the most hopeful of love stories’ dismisses every single bit of history of systematic murder and inhumanity”.
Another wrote: “Your explanation really doesn’t cut it. You are doing a version of one of the greatest and most lauded love stories ever written and centring it around a Jewish girl and a Nazi soldier. If you can not see the inherent problem with that, then I don’t know what to say”.
Icarus claimed that it had held consultations about the idea with members of the Jewish community, but Mr Lewendal was not ready to identify them, saying only that they were individuals rather than organisations. He said that engagement with Jewish organisations was “in process” before the decision was taken to cancel the play.
He added: “Our intention was to cast Jewish actors and actresses. We were shocked to discover our casting director (who we are no longer working with) had removed this key information from our casting breakdown. However, we failed to notice this error before copying it to our website and posting on socials.
“Importantly, we believed that we were moving forward in a way that included the Jewish community with a drastic adaptation of the text. Throughout the entire process, we have consulted with other Jewish artists and authors and our hope was to continue doing so through a research and development period as we sought to explore our concept for this production”.
Mr Lewendal repeated his apology, saying: “We accept that we got this wrong and made Jewish artists feel excluded. We wish to acknowledge the importance of the Jewish community response. Again, we are sorry for the pain we have caused”.
In an earlier response to criticism, Icarus posted on Monday on Twitter: “We are examining how this happened and realised our casting director removed key information and we failed to notice. We apologise: our R&J [Romeo and Juliet] is a criticism of Nazi fascism (and its relevance today) made in consultation with members of the Jewish community, including the director”.
“These are NOT two households both alike in dignity. In particular, we have cut the opening speech and made many other cuts which radically alter the balance of power. Part of our research and development process has always been to include members of the Jewish community to test presentations, as we recognise that the director’s background is not sufficient to ensure proper presentation of this dangerous concept. Our intention is to portray Montagues as the bad guys and kids brainwashed as per Jojo Rabbit, particularly as a criticism of the current political situation”.
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