O Harris says black-only nights ‘allow black people to feel safe at theatre’

Jeremy Harrris, Slave Play

Slave Play, the most Tony-nominated play of all time, will open in the West End on 29th June for a strictly limited season.

However, the play has received much media attention in the last week for announcing that there will be two BLACK OUT nights on 17th July and 17th September, which is a concept developed by O. Harris during Slave Play‘s Broadway run in 2019. On these nights, every seat in the theatre will be occupied by an all-Black-identifying audience, allowing theatregoers to experience the show free from the white gaze.

Downing Street has condemned the decision to stage two BLACK OUT performances, stating “The prime minister is a big supporter of the arts and he believes that the arts should be inclusive and open to everyone, particularly where those arts venues are in receipt of public funding.

“Obviously, these reports are concerning and further information is being sought. But clearly, restricting audiences on the basis of race would be wrong and divisive.”

Slave Play follows three interracial couples who have put themselves forward for a new and unique form of therapy: Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy. This is because the black partners no longer feel sexual attraction to their white partners.

The West end transfer will feature an all-star cast including Kit Harington (Game of Thrones, True West), Fisayo Akinade (The Crucible, Heartstopper), Aaron Heffernan (Brassic, Atlanta), and Denzel Washington’s daughter Olivia Washington (I Am Virgo, Breaking).

Playwright Jeremy O Harris, said he was “so excited’ by the “Black Out nights” initiative.

He continued, “For me, as someone who wants and yearns for black and brown people to be in the theatre, who comes from a working-class environment, who wants people who do not make six figures to feel like theatre is a place for them, it is a necessity to radically invite them in with initiatives that say, ‘You’re invited. Specifically you.’”

He added: “There are a litany of places in our country that are generally only inhabited by white people, and nobody is questioning that, and nobody is saying that by inviting black audiences here you are uninvited.

Jeremy O Harris
“The idea of a Black Out night is to say this is a night that we are specifically inviting black people to fill up the space, to feel safe with a lot of other black people in a place where they often do not feel safe.”

It is understood that the audience for the shows will be achieved by distributing invitation-only tickets through black community groups.

Billed as the most Tony Award-nominated Broadway play of all time (12 noms!), Slave Play is winner of the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences and the 2018 Paula Vogel Award.

O. Harris said: “This play has been a part of me for many years now. It was a play written for my friends, actors like myself, who felt underserved by the options available to them to explore the unspoken terrain of both American history and our collective unconscious in relation to those histories. It was a play written for my friends in grad school who were rarely given the chance to be centre stage. It was written thinking that the Iseman stage (my university’s black box theatre) would be its first and final home. Yet five years later we have been Off-Broadway, on Broadway, and all over America. And now London. Many of the people from the very first reading in my grad school flat have been with the play ever since and are returning to do it in London. It is one of the great honours and gifts of my life that it has made it here.

“I do not take it lightly that this play is one of the rare plays by a black author that has made its way to the West End. I’m incredibly grateful for the trails blazed by the myriad black British writers recently who have broken ground for black writers and audiences on the West End like Arinzé Kene, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Tyrell Williams, Ryan Calais Cameron, and Natasha Gordon. I hope that with this production even more work by writers of colour will find support on our largest commercial stages.”

Slave Play will running at the Noel Coward Theatre from 29th June to 21st September 2024.