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Simon Callow: BDS is 'an abomination'

'I will speak out about artists when they are blocked or have been stopped from performing.'

    Simon Callow and Simon Bird rehearse The Philanthropist
    Simon Callow and Simon Bird rehearse The Philanthropist (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

    Simon Callow has described the boycott Israel campaign as an “abomination” that must not be allowed to succeed.

    The renowned actor and director was moved to speak out because he believes BDS prevents theatre reaching as wide a cross-section of society as possible.

    The Four Weddings and A Funeral star said: “I think it is an abomination that, because you dislike the status of a particular country, you stop artists from coming to communicate.”

    Mr Callow, who is currently directing a new version of Christopher Hampton’s play The Philanthropist, said the repeated calls in 2012 to boycott performances of The Merchant of Venice by Israel’s Habima Theatre Company in the UK illustrated how BDS damaged the performing arts.

    “There was a huge protest about the Habima at the Globe Theatre — when it actually played, it was to an incredibly mixed audience,” he said. “There was an amazing amount of outreach — the actors are doing a good thing.

    “Don’t for God’s sake start to crush them because, if they aren’t accepted abroad, it means they will become sealed off, and whatever else happens, that must not be allowed to occur.”

    Mr Callow, who has directed over 30 shows, including the multi-award-winning musical Carmen Jones, the West End and Broadway productions of Shirley Valentine and the award-winning Single Spies at the National Theatre, said his opposition to the boycott Israel campaign was not a sign that he was a strong supporter of the Jewish state.

    “I make no opinion about Israel because I am not sufficiently well-versed,” he said. “I have not visited Israel, although I haven’t ever been asked to go. It would be stupid of me to speak from ignorance on these matters — so I don’t. I keep shtum.

    “But what I will do is speak out about artists when they are blocked or have been stopped from performing.”

    Mr Callow said he hoped the young but well-known cast he has assembled for his version of The Philanthropist — including Matt Berry, Simon Bird, Lily Cole, Charlotte Ritchie and Tom Rosenthal — would help fulfil his deep-seated desire for theatre to be enjoyed by as great a variety of people as possible.

    “It is absolutely vital that the plays we do speak to the whole of society,” he said. “That is what it is all about, the citizens coming together and watching stories about our collective lives.

    “The theatre can wonderfully help to define an age, tell us what sort of world we are living in.

    “What we hope of the theatre is that it will lodge itself in people’s brains and they will keep checking it against their own experiences. It is crucial that art is not just the preserve of ‘the toffs.’”

    Outside theatre walls, Mr Callow said he was increasingly fearful of the type of society we now find ourselves living within and revealed that he was particularly concerned about the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

    “I know it is a little extreme, and I am not the first person to make the comparison, but I find the situation with Trump not totally dissimilar to the situation with Hitler before he was elected.

    “He is appealing to very dark forces, great selfishness and hatred. It is simply terrifying to me.”

     

    ‘The Philanthropist’ is at Trafalgar Studios until July 22

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