London's Icarus Theatre Collective has canceled its upcoming production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet following online critiques of the production's planned concept, as revealed in a casting notice. The production was planning to shift the action of the classic tragedy to World War II-era Germany, with Shakespeare's warring families "both alike in dignity" becoming a group of Nazis and a Jewish family.
"We apologize and are deeply sorry for the offense and pain we caused to the Jewish community. As a company led by a Jewish Artistic Director who knows the pain of losing family in the holocaust, we recognize that we've made mistakes that have resulted in the Jewish community and Jewish artists feeling excluded and being hurt," reads a statement announcing the closing posted by ITC on social media.
The statement goes on to affirm that the theatre had planned to cast Jewish actors, a move that follows earlier U.K. controversies surrounding the casting of non-Jewish performers as Jewish characters, most notably a 2019 West End production of Falsettos. According to the statement, the company's now former casting director removed this "key information" from the casting breakdown before it was posted to the theatre's website.
"Throughout, we have consulted with other Jewish artists and authors and our hope was to continue doing so through a research and development period as we sought to explore our concept for this production with Jewish groups before opening in March. We accept that we got this wrong. We wish to acknowledge and thank the importance of the Jewish community response in highlighting this."
The casting notice drew critique on social media. "There is no 'tasteful' way to do a Nazi/Jewish love story. Full stop," reads one tweet posted October 31.
The cancellation makes the theatre's upcoming programming unclear. Their production of The Lesson will run at Southwark Playhouse before embarking on an international tour, which, along with an entry in 2023's Camden Fringe, is now the collective's only upcoming production.