Talawa cancels Birmingham REP season over court decision

Published: 23 December 2020
Reporter: Steve Orme

Temporary use as a courtroom: Birmingham REP Credit: Ross Jukes

Impoverished Birmingham REP is to be used as a temporary courtroom during the pandemic—a move which has alienated one theatre company as well as some of its audience.

The REP and Birmingham Library, which are located in the same building, are among several venues that will open as so-called Nightingale Courts, set up by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure hearings can continue during the coronavirus outbreak.

But Talawa, which champions black excellence in theatre, has called off a partnership with the REP because the use of the theatre as a court “does not align with Talawa’s commitment to black artists and communities”.

In a statement, the REP said this was a “financially-based decision made in the context of exceptional circumstances and will provide a much-needed financial contribution to the REP at a time when it is unable to generate income from other sources.”

The statement added that it had been a difficult decision to take. “We acknowledge the impact that this decision will have on those amongst our stakeholders—audiences, participants, artists, staff, partners—who will not agree with this use of our spaces. We recognise and respect those opinions and we will devote time, energy and resources to mitigating the impacts.”

The theatre said “passionate voices” had been raised against the decision and it was “now urgently working towards finding a forum which will enable us to have a face-to-face conversation with all individuals who wish to be part of one, where we can respond personally in a facilitated, open and honest dialogue.”

The court will occupy two of the three theatre spaces and associated meeting rooms in the REP and library until June 2021.

The theatre says the Ministry of Justice will use some parts of the building until 6PM from Monday to Friday and performances will be unaffected.

But Talawa, which was due to stage a Black Joy season at the REP in 2021 featuring a musical production and two newly commissioned plays, says the REP’s decision “has threatened the integrity of the season” and “regrettably the partnership is no longer tenable under current circumstances”.

A statement added, “we recognise that having to make the difficult calls between maintaining the creative and political integrity of cultural buildings and preserving the jobs of those who work within them is a position arts leaders shouldn’t be forced into.

“Our thoughts are with those arts leaders and creatives having to make difficult decisions. During this difficult time, it’s vital that we don’t see buildings close, irreparably harming the cultural fabric of the country.”

Talawa said it was exploring its options and still hoped to “bring the Black Joy season to the audiences it was intended for”.