Two RSC productions to go online

Published: 2 October 2020
Reporter: Steve Orme

Debbie Korley as Mercy Pryce in the RSC’s 2020 production of The Whip Credit: Steve Tanner
John Heffernan (centre) as J Robert Oppenheimer in the 2015 production of Oppenheimer Credit: Keith Pattison

The Royal Shakespeare Company is to perform Juliet Gilkes Romero's play The Whip online as part of Black History Month while the original cast of Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer are to reunite for a one-off online reading of the play.

The Whip, which premièred in the Swan Theatre in 2019, ended unexpectedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary closure of the company’s stages in March 2020.

The original cast of The Whip will reunite to present an audio dramatisation of the play. It explores the human cost of the multi-billion slavery compensation bill which contained provision for the financial compensation of slave owners by the British taxpayer for the loss of their "property" after the abolition of the slave trade in 1833.

Kimberley Sykes directs The Whip which includes sound design by Claire Windsor with music by Akintayo Akinbode. It will première on the Royal Shakespeare Company YouTube channel on Thursday 29 October at 7PM.

Juliet Gilkes Romero said, "since performances of The Whip were brought to a premature end, the legacy of Britain's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade has come into sharper focus. Questions are rightfully being asked about the extent of the trade and its impact on our society.

“The facts of this history deserve to be re-examined and future generations have the right to debate how Britain's collective colonial memory, or lack of it, shapes our current cultural reality. We’re staging this recording to be part of this important conversation.”

The cast comprises Michael Abubakar (chorus), David Birrell (Lord Maybourne), Richard Clothier (Alexander Boyd), John Cummins (Cornelius Hyde Villiers), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (William Purnell), Debbie Korley (Mercy Pryce), Nadi Kemp-Sayfi (chorus), Tom McCall (Anthony Bradshaw Cooper), Katherine Pearce (Horatia), Corey Montague-Sholay (Edmund), Riad Richie (the speaker) and Bridgitta Roy (chorus).

The RSC has also disclosed there will be a one-off play reading of Tom Morton-Smith's Oppenheimer which reunites the original cast of the RSC’s sell-out 2014–2015 production. It will be broadcast on the RSC’s YouTube channel on Thursday 15 October at 7PM.

Director Angus Jackson commented, "Tom Moreton-Smith called me and pointed out that this year marked the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima. It seemed like the perfect moment to revisit the play. From there, I set about contacting the original cast personally and everyone said ‘yes’ straight away. It was a supercharged response.

Oppenheimer is the sort of play you savour. It's a beautifully written piece and, in a time where there isn't a great deal of theatre available, I'm delighted to give audiences the opportunity to enjoy this compelling and important piece of work, whether re-visiting the play for a second or third time or encountering it afresh."

Oppenheimer is set in 1939. In Berkeley, California, theoretical physicists recognise the horrendous potential of atomic fission. Ambitious, charismatic J Robert Oppenheimer finds himself uniquely placed to spearhead the largest scientific undertaking in human history.

John Heffernan reprises the role of Oppenheimer. The rest of the cast comprises Ben Allen (Edward Teller), Ross Armstrong (Haakon Chevalier / Richard Feynman), Daniel Boyd (Joe Weinberg / Tibbets), Vincent Carmichael (Kenneth Nichols), William Gaminara (General Leslie Groves), Michael Grady-Hall (Frank Oppenheimer / soldier 2), Jack Holden (Robert Wilson), Oliver Johnstone (Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz), Andrew Langtree (Peer Da Silva), Samuel Littell (boy), Joel Maccormack (Klaus Fuchs / Richard Harrison / soldier 1), Tom McCall (Hans Bethe), Toby Webster (Luis Alvarez / doctor/ military policeman), Jamie Wilkes (Bob Serber / Einstein), Laura Cubitt (Ruth Tolman / waitress), Hedydd Dylan (Jackie Oppenheimer), Sandy Foster (Charlotte Serber), Thomasin Rand (Kitty Harrison) and Catherine Steadman (Jean Tatlock).