Roald Dahl’s antisemitism is the subject of a new play at the Royal Court

Giant, the debut play written by Mark Rosenblatt, stars John Lithgow and will be directed by Nicholas Hytner


Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl’s antisemitism is the subject of a new play that will be staged at the Royal Court theatre this autumn.

Called Giant, the debut play written by writer-director Mark Rosenblatt stars John Lithgow, who has featured in The Crown and comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun, and will be directed by Nicholas Hytner.

The play is set in 1983, on the eve of the publication of Dahl's novel The Witches, when the children’s author is facing outcry over the antisemitic views he’s aired in the media.

In a book review in the August 1983 edition of the British periodical Literary Review, Dahl referred to “those powerful American Jewish bankers” and stated that the United States government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there”. That same year, in an interview with the New Statesman, Dahl said: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity... Even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason.”

The play takes place across a single afternoon at Dahl’s home, and sees his family and Jewish publisher Tom Maschler, played by Olivier Award-winning Elliot Levey, gather to navigate the scandal.

Set to run from 20 September to 16 November, Giant “explores with dark humour the difference between considered opinion and dangerous rhetoric” and offers “a complicated portrait of a fiendishly charismatic icon”, according to the synopsis on the Royal Court’s website.

Rosenblatt hopes it will give audiences “an uncomfortably funny, urgent and provocative night in the theatre”.

The playwright said: “When I was tearing my hair out writing it at my kitchen table, I never for a second imagined it would premiere on this landmark stage, and with this calibre of cast and creative team. It's completely surreal and thrilling to have it programmed as part of David Byrne's first season.”

John Lithgow said: “I'm thrilled to be performing at The Royal Court where I've seen so much great work, stretching all the way back to the late 1960's. There's no better place to unveil Mark Rosenblatt's stunning new play.”

Mark Rosenblatt directed the short film Ganef, which was inspired by stories from the aftermath of his own family's Holocaust survival; and won best UK short at New Renaissance and Nottingham International Film Festivals and a special mention at UK Jewish Film Festival. It was screened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, and LA Holocaust Museum.

Over his career, Dahl wrote classics including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG, all of which have been made into films and stage shows. The British author’s family issued an apology for Dahl's antisemitism in 2020, three decades after his death in 1990.

The Royal Court apologised “unreservedly” to Britain’s Jews for naming a fictional grasping billionaire “Hershel Fink” in 2022.

Elliot Levey said of his upcoming role in Giant: “What an honour to be making my Royal Court debut playing a man so central to its history. Tom Maschler is in the marrow of the Royal Court. It was his second home. John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, George Devine, Tony Richardson – all the gang in those early heady days – owed something of their careers to Tom. “Rosenblatt's new play couldn't be more timely, brilliant and revelatory – it packs a punch. I'm thrilled to be coming along for the ride. Maschler and the old gang would be proud of this one.”

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