No Asian actors were cast in Howard Barker's ancient Chinese play In The Depths of Dead Love

British east Asian celebrities joined around 120 people at last night’s ‘yellowface’ protest against The Print Room’s production of In The Depths of Dead Love.

Despite being a play set in ancient China with Chinese character names, the production failed to cast a single east Asian actor. In her article for Resonate, theatre actress Lucy Sheen wrote,“when it comes to the East Asians, time and time again such cultural sensitivity and awareness is not just lacking, but completely absent.”

The Print Room responded to the criticism from the community by saying “It is, in fact a very ‘English’ play and is derived from thoroughly English mores and simply references the mythic and the ancient. It has therefore been cast accordingly.”

In response, a protest against the production of In the Depths of Dead Love was organised by theatre producer Andrew Keates and actor Daniel Yorke.

Speaking to Resonate, Keates said he felt the need to organise a protest when he heard a play set in ancient China with Chinese names was being cast with Caucasian actors that can very contently work in other jobs and not see the Print Room championing the extraordinary talent of East Asian and South East Asian communities. If not quashed, this could set us back decades.” 

Keates described east Asians as an “amazing community” with “extraordinary talent”.

The theatre producer, who is currently working on his new project, Chinglish, slammed the Print Room’s response. “The Print Room’s responses have been a joke. I don’t know who runs their PR department but it’s almost like receiving letters from an 8-year-old. Every single time I see a response, it makes me more and more angry. They called this play a “very English play” – is that the justification for white caucasian actors when only 5% of the UK is caucasian?”

Looking forward, Keates hopes this is “the last fucking production of caucasians playing roles that can very easily be played by east Asians” and suggests that the Print Room “shut [the production] down and reevaluate what they think of diversity”.

According to Keates, out of the 130 actors employeed at The Print Room over the last year, less than 7 fit in the BAME category.

“We’re in a time of xenophobia. Hate crimes are on the rise, we’ve got brexit coming. Now is the time to be telling the stories of social minority groups and telling them through the most progressive art form.”

Amongst the attendees of the protest were Katie Leung (One Child, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Gemma Chan (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemDoctor WhoHumans) and Benedict Wong (The Martian, Dr Strange, Black Mirror). We caught up with each of them during the protest.

Katie Leung

Katie Leung discussed the impact The Print Room’s actions have on the east Asian community. “We are already a very marginalised race in quite a few aspects of society,” Leung said, “When you’ve got a situation like this when there can be an opportunity for east Asians to be involved and you decide to erase that opportunity to serve the artistic freedom of the play, it’s just not a good enough reason.”

“We’re in London at the heart of diversity. It really angers me.”

Describing the Print Room’s response as “lazy” and “privileged”, Leung also doesn’t buy into their explanation of referencing the mythic and the ancient. “If it was a mythical place they wanted to set it in, don’t use china because we are not a mythical place, we are very real”.

The Harry Potter actress would like to see the Print Room recast.

Gemma Chan

For Gemma Chan, it was “the response of the Print Room that made things worse”  and whilst she stands in “solidarity with [her] fellow British eastAsian artists and other artists in the wider theatre community to show [her] support and to say that yellowface is not acceptable”, the Fantastic Beasts actress said it was a “shame that it has come to a protest”.

“I would have loved everything to be solved with a dialogue. I think that would’ve been possible.” 

“Everything has to be seen in context and when you’re talking about an ethnic group that has historically been stereotyped and marginalised and in some cases completely erased from theatre, that’s the context you have to see it in. “

Chan hopes to see more positivity going forward.

Benedict Wong

Benedict Wong insists that the actions of the Print Room “should’ve been nipped in the bud at a very early stage”, Wong believes this situation wouldn’t happen “if this was a play set in Africa or South East Asia”.

“They’ve made a tit of themselves,”  Wong said of the production company. “When they’re thinking of representing people, it’s either black or south-east Asian. They’re not turning the lens sharp enough and focusing on what diversity is not only in London but in England.

“You want to enjoy the colors of the rainbow and not just a bright white sky.”

Discussing the Print Room’s “childish” response, Wong said, “People were waiting two to three weeks for their response. They were left in the shit trying to concoct their answer and we were onto them. It’s an embarrassment.”

Looking forward, the Martian actor hopes to find courageous producers who will embrace the stories ethnic minorities. “Everyone is in the same boat who needs to express their stories. It’s the erasure of this. We need someone who’s bold enough to take that onboard and give us a platform to tell these stories.”