Rare Earth Mettle events and actions status update

Published on Thu 18 Nov 2021

Rare Earth Mettle by Al Smith previewed at the Royal Court from 10th November and opened to the press on 16th November 2021.

Originally and throughout the development and rehearsals of the play, the character of Henry Finn was named Hershel Fink. On 5th November, the Royal Court was notified by members of the Jewish community that the use of this Ashkenazi Jewish name for a ‘Silicon Valley billionaire and CEO’ […] ‘on a mission to save the world’ […] ‘and make millions of dollars in the process’ –  risked perpetuating antisemitic tropes.

Following this contact – by email and on Twitter – playwright Al Smith immediately changed the name and the Royal Court issued two statements of unreserved apology on 6th November.

Everyone at the Royal Court is extremely grateful to those who have highlighted this to us and we welcome the rigorous accountability and collaborative generosity that they have provided. We apologise again for the upset and anger that this has caused, and we hope that the actions below manifest that regret.

Since 7th November we have been in active work with members of the Jewish community to understand how this harm was committed on both creative and institutional levels throughout the development and rehearsal processes. We acknowledge our wrongdoing and will include antisemitism in future anti-oppression practices and training. We are meeting with providers of this training over the coming weeks and they will be appointed in consultation with the Board.

The Royal Court Board met on 11th November and is steering an internal review to interrogate how this happened across all areas of the organisation. This will include looking at our artistic practices as well as the organisational ones which let this go unchecked and unchanged.

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. 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.

We know that a number of independent open group zooms for the Jewish community connected to theatre are happening over the coming weeks and we are looking forward to hearing back from them.

We know that Judaism is not a monolith and that people embrace their cultural and religious Jewish heritage in many different ways in their lives. We are starting this work with artists who are striving for a better theatre sector for themselves to thrive in but we know that staff in buildings, other freelancers, and audiences are all interested in what has happened and might want space to contribute. If anyone would like to get involved in the conversations you can contact us on conversations@royalcourttheatre.com.

While these issues relate to this play specifically, we hope the experience on Rare Earth Mettle can be a catalyst. Through learning more about the Jewish experience and antisemitism in theatre, the Royal Court will work to dismantle antisemitism internally and will strive to join up with other organisations across the industry.

We were very saddened by the abuse that Sour Lemons have received as a result of this incident, and we are adamant that further harm is not acceptable as we work towards a better, healthier, more just sector for all. Our work with Sour Lemons focuses on internal institutional structures and culture and we are 6 months into a 2 year process together. Learnings and actions that come from this will be included in our anti-oppression work together.

Looking ahead, we are proud of the work we have been, and are still developing, with Jewish writers and artists. This includes a verbatim work about antisemitism on the left led by Tracy-Ann Oberman which has been in discussion and development throughout this year. We shall aim to programme this in 2022.