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UK theater was warned months ago moneyman character’s Jewish name could be offensive

Royal Court playhouse admits concerns were raised by a Jewish director during workshop, vows to look into matter

A view of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square Apr. 20, 2021 in London, England. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images via JTA)
A view of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square Apr. 20, 2021 in London, England. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images via JTA)

A British theater was warned months before the opening night of a new production that the Jewish-sounding name of a billionaire character with plans for global domination could cause offense.

London’s famed Royal Court theater announced earlier this month that it had changed the name of “Hershel Fink” and issued an apology, though it did not acknowledge any conscious bias against Jews. The move came following outcry at the name of the character in Al Smith’s “Rare Earth Mettle,” which later opened to the press on November 16.

The theater has stressed that Hershel Fink, the CEO of an electric car company who has plans to take over the world, is not a Jewish character and that the name was changed to Henry Finn in the play, which otherwise makes no reference to Jews.

However, in a statement Thursday, the theater said that the use of the moniker had already been flagged in September by a Jewish director during a workshop discussion.

“On 8th November the leadership of the Royal Court was informed that the name had been raised by a Jewish director in a workshop discussion held as part of the series Directors: Working on New Plays in September 2021,” the theater said. “We are in conversations with this director as we hold ourselves accountable for why this was not taken further, nor passed on to the writer. This specific event will form part of the Board’s internal review.”

Three sources confirmed to The Sunday Times that a young Jewish director had raised his concerns with director Hamish Pirie.

The director told Pirie that name is clearly of Jewish origin and might face criticism as being an antisemitic trope, the Jewish Chronicle reported Sunday, citing the Times article.

The theater said its board was examining the entire incident and “is steering an internal review to interrogate how this happened across all areas of the organization.” Royal Court said it plans to work with the Jewish community to form better ties with the theater.

“We are proud of the work we have been, and are still developing, with Jewish writers and artists,” the theater said, and pointed to work already in the planning about antisemitism on the left that will be led by Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman.

Tracy-Ann Oberman as Nancy Malinovsky in ‘Ridley Road.’ (Courtesy Red Productions)

Oberman responded to the Sunday Times report saying she will go ahead with the project in order to directly address any antisemitism at the playhouse.

“There can be no better place to start unraveling anti-Jewish bias, unconscious or otherwise, than in the very progressive left theater space that historically at this moment in time finds itself in the eye of the storm on this particular subject,” she wrote.

Oberman said it is part of a broader issue that requires attention by Equity UK, the British actors union.

“If the Royal Court are prepared to stand up and acknowledge the hurt that they have caused, then organizations like Equity UK should take note and accept that many of their Jewish members do not feel safe, represented or heard in their organization,” she wrote. “Change is coming.”

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