New play sees exiled Chinese Poet & Imperial Court done in Yellowface

In January London UK Theatre goers and culture lovers, will have the opportunity to see a theatre production done using Yellowface. In other words, audiences will see a play which is set in China, about Chinese people, performed by a cast of white actors – In The Depths Of Dead Love.

Copied from the Print Room’s website announcing their first production for 2017:

IN THE DEPTHS OF DEAD LOVE

by Howard Barker

Print Room at the Coronet presents a rare opportunity to see the World Premiere of a new play by “England’s greatest living dramatist.” (The Times)

Set in ancient China, In the Depths of Dead Love tells of a poet exiled from the Imperial Court & the favour of the Emperor, who scrapes a living by renting his peculiar property – a bottomless well – to aspiring suicides. Among these is a married couple who exert an appalling influence over him.


Print Room In The Depths of Dead Love a new play to be performed in Yellowface i.e. using an entirely white cast to portray East Asian characters

In The Depths of Dead Love – Barker’s new play about China which will be performed in early 2017 in Yellowface i.e. by a cast of white actors pretending to be East Asians


A play set in Imperial China. By one of the most renowned British playwrights. Cause for celebration, or it should be until you take a look at the cast.

Jane Bertish – Mrs. Hu

William Chubb – Lord Ghang

James Clyde – Chin

Stella Gonet – Lady Hasi

Great cast, but from the character names, I may be going out on a limb here, and guessing that these are East Asian people and not Foreign devils. Not, one single British East Asian actor as been cast.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen of the 21st century, on a UK stage in 2017, audiences will be present with a production that will be performed using the hideous, insulting, disrespectful and yes, racist practice of Yellowface. At a time when we really need to be nurturing and respecting each other, amidst the continued protestations from the creative industry, on how they do really respect and understand that diversity is key and that the lack of BAMEs on stage is something that must be redressed. The Print Room will be giving us a production in Yellowface to kick off the new year.

To be clear Yellowface is not just about actors who decided to change their physical facial appearance to ‘look more East Asian’. Yellowface is about casting decisions, the propagation of racist East Asian stereotypes, caricatures and constant whitewashing of culture which leaves no place for East Asians to be involved with or participate in the telling or retelling of stories and history that directly relates to them. By casting white actors in East Asian roles it continues the underlying inference that East Asians are not “good enough” to be cast. That there are not enough East Asian actors and even if they were their proficiency and professional skill is not as great as that of their white counterparts. We all know (Or should do) that this is not true.

After the Orphan of Zhao casting debacle back in 2013, with media headlines of “East Asain actors seek RSC apology over Orphan of Zhao casting” one would have hoped, and I thought that we had moved on from this deplorable and unacceptable practice.

Sugar-Coated Bullets of The Bourgeoise by Anders Lustgarten with a cast of NINE East Asians, is positive proof that in this day and age there is absolutely no need for any Theatre company, any production to participate in the practice of Yellowface.


Press photograph HighTide Festival Aldeburgh 2016

Some of the HighTide festival Sugar-Coated Bullets cast in Aldeburgh 2016


The recent theatrical productions of, The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Chimerica, The World of Extreme Happiness, You for Me and P’YONGYANG you cannot in all good faith tell me that Britain only has a handful of British East Asian actors, because it is obvious it has more and the number is growing

If it was a new play set in ancient Africa, about the Kush (Nubians) or at Al Kurru (Sudan) would we even be talking about the cast being white?  Or a new work about Ashoka, would it even be under consideration, to cast the piece using only white actors? The answer is a resounding NO.

It is not about censorship, who can write what or who can perform what.

But about how we, as modern human beings, who understand the nuances of being. Identity, race and acceptance, how important to all of us this concepts and constructs are. How powerful visual reference are. If we were operating on a completely level playing field then the colour of an actor would not matter one jot. We would be seeing non-specific casting across the board. No one would bat an eyelid if Queen Victoria was played by a South Asian and Albert by a Black actor.

But we are not there, far from it. It is perfectly acceptable for a white actor to portray characters that are white, non-white and ethnically specific, but if an actor of colour is cast to portray a role that is outside of their ethnic roots it causes, more often than not “negative debate.”  Equality, hardly.

Yet when it comes to the East Asians, time and time again such cultural sensitivity and awareness is not just lacking, but completely absent.

The tragedy is the thinking that is involved surrounding works that are about other British ethnicities such as Black, African, Caribbean and South Asian; never, or seldom seems to be applied in any measure whatsoever, when it comes to works that involve East Asia or East Asian themes and characters. If as a society we can apply such thinking and progressive understanding to other British minorities, why can’t this equality of thought and action be extended to British East Asians?

Why? 

Are British East Asians so invisible? Do we as human beings mean so little that we literally have no place, in British society, in its culture? We are expected to contribute to all other levels of society, yet we are denied access to participate culturally?

Our shared histories and sacrifices are of so little consequence because the colour of our skin and the shape of our eyes are different?
Do we mean so little that, the wider British society feels, we don’t even merit the same considerations that are afforded or fellow British Minority Ethnics?

That we are, somehow will be less offended by Yellowface than a Black person would be by Blackface? I have been told on more than one occasion that Yellowface is not the same as Blacking up or Blackface. Well, let me tell you as British East Asian, Yellowface is every bit as insulting, demeaning, disrespectful and racist.

 

 

 

 

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