Royal Court theatre changes billionaire character’s Jewish name after anti-Semitism accusations

The Royal Court Theatre has changed the Jewish name of a billionaire character in a new play after being accused of "unconscious bias" and anti-Semitism.

The London theatre apologised and changed the name of Hershel Fink, a character in Rare Earth Mettle, to Henry Finn.

Fink, a Silicon Valley mogul and the CEO of an electric car company with clear parallels to Elon Musk, is not represented on stage as being Jewish. But the use of a Jewish name, and his portrayal as a billionaire with malign intentions, sparked accusations that the theatre was perpetrating insulting tropes and stereotypes about Jews.

The Royal Court said on Saturday that the naming of the character was an example of "unconscious bias" and would be changed. "The Royal Court Theatre apologises unreservedly for this situation," a statement said. "We acknowledge that this is an example of unconscious bias and we will reflect deeply on how this has happened in the coming days.

"For clarification, the character is not Jewish and there is no reference to being Jewish in the play. We and the writer are deeply sorry for harm caused. In response to our learning, the writer has changed the name.

"We are grateful to the members of the Jewish community who got in touch with the Royal Court to communicate that the name of one of the characters in Rare Earth Mettle is antisemitic."

‘The Shylock stereotype is enduring’

The play, directed by Hamish Pirie, the Royal Court’s associate director, and starring Arthur Darvill as the billionaire, is described as "a brutally comic exploration of risk, delusion and power".

Its writer Al Smith, whose credits include Diary of a Madman, The Astronaut Wives Club, Holby City and EastEnders is not Jewish. The theatre said Mr Smith would not be commenting on the name change.

Critics had pointed out that a trailer for the play appeared to contain anti-Semitic tropes involving the accumulation of money, the abuse of power and the theft of land from others.

David Baddiel, the comic and author of the book Jews Don’t Count, welcomed the change but repeated his criticism of the original decision to use the name. "Apparently The Royal Court claims they didn’t realise ‘Hershel Fink’ was a Jewish name," he wrote on Twitter. "Hmm. Somehow it just sounded so right for a world-conquering billionaire.

"I’ve written a play. Everything – particularly now and particularly about ethnicity – gets relentlessly discussed. Except as regards one ethnicity, apparently. To be fair, the Royal Court  have acknowledged their unconscious bias here and changed the name. It’s still a very instructive Jews Don’t Count episode."

Edward Einhorn, a playwright and theatre director, said: "This nonsense from the Royal Court. Man, the Shylock stereotype is enduring."

Adam Lenson, a director and producer of musicals, wrote on Twitter: "So, Al Smith at The Royal Court has taken a character clearly based on Elon Musk and when fictionalising him has given him an obviously Jewish name. Casually making a Silicon Valley billionaire Jewish perpetuates anti-Semitic stereotypes and will cause ideological harm."

The Royal Court said on Saturday that it was examining "the process that enabled this name to be unquestioned and what is missing in our systems that would have mitigated this unnecessary harm", adding: "Our anti-racism work is current and ongoing, and this experience proves once again how necessary and wide that work must be. 

"We will work hard now in the hope of restoring trust and confidence within our Jewish community."

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