London theatre producing a Nazi-Jewish version of Romeo and Juliet

The director Max Lewendel, who is Jewish, defended the production


The Jewish director of an upcoming Romeo and Juliet production, set in 1930s Germany, has apologised after its casting notice did not mention Jews.

On Friday, the Icarus Theatre Collective put out a casting call by email and on social media for a production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but set in 1930s Germany, with Romeo Montague a member of the Hitler Youth, and Juliet Capulet a young Jewish girl.

Max Lewendel, founder and director of the Icarus Theatre Collective, told the JC that the omission of Jews from a casting call that included "non-binary artists, and/or those of Global Majorty [sic], black or Asian heritage" was a mistake, blaming his casting director for the error.

When approached by the JC this morning amid a social media backlash, he said: "It should have said on the Capulet characters a preference for people from the Jewish community. If that's not there, that is a mistake."

"Oh s***," he added when he looked at the webpage. "I'm looking back on it now, and yes, that has been removed. That was in the first draft. I didn't notice when it got removed.

"Apologies from us. Our first draft had it, we don't know how it went wrong. We are correcting that as soon as possible. That is absolutely not what was intended, and apologies to anyone that was understandably affected by this."

The JC has seen the first draft of the casting call, written by Lewendel and emailed to other team members on 8 October, which included the sentence "preferably Jewish heritage" for the Juliet character, as well as Lord and Lady Capulet.

The description read: "In defiance of their entire society and in secrecy from their closest friends, hopeful young lives burn amidst a cataclysmic backdrop of impending war. Sun and moon shine down on star-crossed lovers as a Jewish girl falls for a member of Nazi Youth and the boy questions everything he was taught to believe.

"They hide their passion and sexuality from their warring families and their closest friends. Misadventure, family pride, and antisemitism abort and bury the most joyous of beginnings, the most hopeful of love stories as Romeo and Juliet, driven apart, find their world becoming a constricting mausoleum of fate and death."

Asked why he was staging a production set in the Nazi-era, which many on Twitter have objected to, given the sensitive nature of the period, Lewendel said: "It's the increasing fascism in the world today that has kind of become a trend in my work.

"I gained some comfort that the idea could be accepted when I saw things like 'Jojo Rabbit', and it shows this young boy - younger than Romeo - who's been indoctrinated but doesn't really understand what he's been indoctrinated against."

The Campaign Against Antisemitism reacted to Lewendel's apology on social media saying: "We still struggle to think how this could be anything but tasteless.

"It is staggering that anyone would find this play about morally-equivalent feuding families to be an appropriate way to explore Nuremberg-era persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany."

In 2018, Jewish director Shira Dubrovner staged a Nazi-era adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in California, USA, saying at the time, "The main purpose of doing this play is to remember what happened and not let history repeat itself.”

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