By Guy Lynn
BBC News

Image source, Helen Murray

Image caption,

None of the characters in Al Smith’s play Rare Earth Mettle are Jewish

London’s Royal Court Theatre has apologised “unreservedly” after hosting a play accused of perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype.

In December, the theatre lost two financial backers after putting on a new play, Rare Earth Mettle.

The row surrounded the role of Hershel Fink, a manipulative billionaire who, despite his name, is not Jewish.

On Tuesday, the theatre admitted it “fell short” of its “ambitions in terms of inclusivity and anti-racism”.

The theatre claimed in November they did not know Hershel Fink was a Jewish name.

But a new report by the theatre’s board confirmed the Jewish connection to the character’s name had been brought up as early as March 2020.

In the play, Fink is the CEO of an electric car company. The name was chosen because writer Al Smith felt it had a similar rhythm to the name of billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

However, the character is not Jewish and there was no reference to him being so in the show. Critics pointed out this was an obviously Jewish name.

When alerted, bosses later changed the name of the character to Henry Finn.

Image caption,

The plot of Rare Earth Mettle, which is described as a satire, revolves around the abundance of lithium

The choice of the name was originally explained during the play, the report by the theatre’s board found.

The character was an illegal immigrant to the US, who had chosen an American sounding name based on his admiration of the German-astronomer William Herschel.

This context was removed during the editing process, leaving that choice of the name unexplained, the report said.

It stated that it “sincerely regrets its mistakes” as well as announcing that it would now launch specialist training on anti-Semitism.

Image source, Helen Murray

Image caption,

One of the play’s characters, now renamed Henry Finn, wants to use lithium to revolutionise the car industry

The government’s independent anti-Semitism advisor, Lord John Mann, said: “This was a classic failure of an organisation challenging their own prejudice.

“Any training now needs to be robust. It was a huge own goal from the theatre and this was very damaging to the Jewish community, it’s a shame it’s taken them so long to get to where we’re at.”

Interim Director of London’s Jewish Museum, Frances Jeens, told BBC London: “This image is a stereotype as it shows a Jewish person in a malevolent way.

“So it’s a racist depiction of a Jewish person – rich, controlling, in power.

“These are deeply hurtful stereotypes that have existed for centuries and is something that is very hurtful to the Jewish community today.”

The Royal Court Theatre’s artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, repeatedly declined requests for an interview by the BBC.

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