Theatre company pulls out of 'Black Joy' season over venue's court deal

image copyrightJonathan Keenan
image captionDon Warrington played King Lear in a 2016 Talawa production

One of the UK's leading black theatre companies has pulled out of a season of plays about "Black Joy" in protest at the venue's role as a temporary court.

Talawa Theatre Company had been due to stage the Black Joy season at the Birmingham Rep theatre next year.

But Talawa said that was "no longer tenable" after the venue signed a deal to become a Nightingale Court.

The Birmingham Rep said it had made a "financially-based decision" to make the transformation during the pandemic.

But Talawa said the decision "does not align with Talawa's commitment to Black artists and communities, the communities most affected by this decision".

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A statement added: "It has threatened the integrity of the Black Joy season; regrettably the partnership is no longer tenable under current circumstances."

However, the company did acknowledge that venues were being forced to make "difficult calls" and that it was "vital that we don't see buildings close".

Talawa was founded in 1986 and has worked with actors including Don Warrington, Sharon D Clarke, Nonso Anozie and Michaela Coel.

'Fight for survival'

Birmingham Rep declined to comment on Talawa's decision, but has previously said it is "doing our utmost to fight for the survival of The Rep and we sincerely wish we weren't in these extraordinary circumstances".

On Friday, it said in a statement: "We made a decision that we believe to be in the best interests of the theatre facing a very serious situation to which there are no easy answers.

"That such passionate voices have been raised against this decision demonstrates to us that we have alienated some of the individuals and communities that we are trying so hard to protect the theatre for...

"In no way have we wished to put any artists or partners of ours in a compromised position - either now or in the future - and recognise that this very difficult decision has impacted on that wish."

It has also said that 50 staff members have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. It is one of a number of venues chosen by the Ministry of Justice to become a temporary Nightingale Court to help clear a backlog of cases.

It will hear non-custodial cases as well as civil and family hearings and tribunals in two of its three auditoria until June 2021.

The Black Joy season was described as "an artistically ambitious body of work" including three new plays, six "seed commissions" and backstage training and work opportunities.

Talawa said it was "exploring our options" to still bring the season "to the audiences it was intended for".

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