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John Lithgow to star in play about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism

‘Giant’ will run from September through November at Royal Court Theater, and follow the author in the aftermath of a contentious 1983 interview

Author Roald Dahl and his wife, actress Patricia Neal, arrive for the premiere of 'The Subject Was Roses,' in New York, December 10, 1968. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)
Author Roald Dahl and his wife, actress Patricia Neal, arrive for the premiere of 'The Subject Was Roses,' in New York, December 10, 1968. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

A new play about the antisemitism of late children’s author Roald Dahl is set to take the stage at London’s Royal Court Theater this fall.

Theater news site Broadway World reported on Monday that the play, titled “Giant,” written by Matt Rosenblatt and directed by Nicholas Hynter, will star veteran American actor John Lithgow.

According to the site, the play — expected to open in September — follows Dahl in the summer of 1983, as he is about to release his book “The Witches,” in the immediate aftermath of an interview in which the author made degrading comments about Jewish people.

“I really hope ‘Giant’ gives Royal Court audiences an uncomfortably funny, urgent and provocative night in the theatre,” the site quoted Rosenblatt as saying.

The reputation of Roald Dahl, who wrote such classics as “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” and “The BFG,” was irreparably tarnished in the summer of 1983, when, in an interview to The New Statesman, the author issued numerous antisemitic statements.

“Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason,” Dahl said at the time, after slamming Jewish people for their “lack of generosity towards non-Jews.”

Roald Dahl (L) and his wife, actress Patricia Neal (R), arrive at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, April 11, 1969. (AP Photo)

The author was also opposed to the Jewish state, and openly espoused the antisemitic trope accusing Jewish people in other countries of dual loyalty.

“I’m certainly anti-Israeli, and I’ve become antisemitic inasmuch as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism,” the author wrote in 1990, months before his death, in an article for The Independent.

The debate over Dahl’s antisemitism hit mainstream Hollywood in 2016, during the centenary of the author’s birth, upon the release of the Steven Spielberg version of “The BFG.” At a Cannes Film Festival press conference, the Jewish director said he “wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories” before shooting the movie.

Two years later, the UK daily The Guardian revealed that the British Royal Mint refused to produce a commemorative coin for the late author’s 100th birthday, citing his antisemitism.

Dahl’s books have also featured negative references to people’s race, gender, weight and disabilities, leading his publisher, Puffin Books, to remove hundreds of offensive phrases from his books, a process which took some three years, ending only in February of last year.

American-born actress Patricia Neal. with her husband, author Roald Dahl and their 9-month-old daughter Lucy Neal Dahl, in May 1966, at their home at Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England. (AP Photo, File)

In late 2020, more than 30 years after his death, the estate of Roald Dahl issued a quiet apology for the “prejudiced” antisemitic positions the celebrated children’s author had regularly expressed, calling them “incomprehensible.”

In July, the Roald Dahl Museum in England released a similar acknowledgment of the author’s bigotry.

“Roald Dahl’s racism is undeniable and indelible but what we hope can also endure is the potential of Dahl’s creative legacy to do some good,” the museum wrote on its website.

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