"The decision has been taken to withdraw the forthcoming performance on 31 October."
Hackney Empire has withdrawn from Music Theatre Wales’s The Golden Dragon production following whitewashing backlash.
The Golden Dragon is a part-comedy, part-tragedy set in a pan-Asian restaurant. According to their website, the story “follows the story of a Chinese immigrant working illegally in the kitchen.”
The production resulted in a backlash with many slamming Music Theatre Wales for whitewashing by casting only white actors despite being set in a Chinese restaurant.
The Hackney Empire was due to host the London premiere of the opera on 31 October. The Guardian reports that the Hackney Empire has since cancelled the performance.
In a statement, the Empire said, “The debate aroused by the non-Asian casting in The Golden Dragon compromises the Empire’s commitment and position as a champion of diversity and accessibility across the theatre industry, and therefore the decision has been taken to withdraw the forthcoming performance on 31 October.”
“Music Theatre Wales were renting the theatre for this production and Hackney Empire has not been involved in any part of the production or casting process.”
Music Theatre Wales had previously defended their all-white casting. In a statement, the production company said, “the original play, and the opera on which it is based, is post-Brechtian story-telling: the cast narrate the story and introduce the multiple characters they are about to play,”
Kumiko Mendl, the artistic director of Yellow Earth Theatre wrote to Music Theatre Wales to raise her concerns and supported Hackney Empire for their decision to pull the preformance.
“We’ve had a number of incidents over the years and this is yet another one,” she said. “Obviously this is the opera world, which is notoriously un-diverse, but this play would have been a fantastic opportunity for them to go out and find diverse opera singers, especially east Asian opera singers.
“It doesn’t make sense that it’s an all-Caucasian cast, particularly when it is about nationalities, ethnicities and the immigrant experience,” she continued. “You can’t say that the immigrant experience is purely just a white experience. That doesn’t make sense at all.”
“Personally I know opera singers of east Asian descent who would’ve been great in this and would’ve loved that opportunity to play all those different parts and work with obviously a well-renowned company.”
Music Theatre Wales has responded to the cancellation and has acknowledged its mistakes. “We should have reflected more deeply on the implications it had for the kind of production we made,” the company said. “These errors of judgment were ours alone. Our exceptional performers are not to blame.”
“This is a transformative experience for the company and one from which we are determined to learn. We are already in the process of meeting with a number of professionals and practitioners who wrote to us to raise their concerns, and we will be listening to them as we engage in a thorough review of our approach to equal opportunities and diversity: in our programming, in our casting and across all our activities as a company. We are committed to incorporating this learning into everything we do.”