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London stage adaptation of Oscar-nominated Polish film set in the Cold War is slammed for its lack of Polish actors and creatives in ‘representation’ row
A major new London stage adaptation of an Oscar-nominated Polish film has been slammed for its lack of actors and creatives from Poland.
The forthcoming Cold War at the Almeida Theatre, starring Indian-British actress Anya Chalotra, 27, and British actor Luke Thallon, 27, who has Polish grandparents, is at the centre of a row about ‘representation.’
Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson and directed by British theatre heavyweight Rupert Goold, the musical version of the Pawe Pawlikowski’s hit 2018 film has left some in the Polish acting community ‘absolutely devastated.’
Starting next month at the acclaimed North London venue, the musical does include some actors with Polish ancestry in the cast but, critics argue, they do not have ‘lived experience’ of being Polish.
The play is a decades-spanning love story about the relationship between a singer and a composer, set in communist-controlled Poland, starting in 1949.
It is advertised as featuring ‘traditional Polish songs’ and ‘stirring choral arrangements’, alongside music by British star Elvis Costello.
A major new London stage adaptation at the Almeida Theatre of an Oscar-nominated Polish film has been slammed for its lack of actors and creatives from Poland
The musical version of the Pawe Pawlikowski’s hit 2018 film has left some in the Polish acting community ‘absolutely devastated’ (Pictured: Pawlikowski during the 2018 European Film Awards)
The play is a decades-spanning love story about the relationship between a singer and a composer, set in communist-controlled Poland, starting in 1949 (Pictured: Cover from 2018 film)
Polish director Nastazja Domaradzka said that people in the ‘Polish community of artists’ are so upset by the casting decision that they are ‘in the process of getting together.’
‘Now that The Almeida has put the full cast on the website I am here to remind you all that the Polish community of artists is absolutely devastated by the fact that are no Polish people involved in The Cold War at Almeida Theatre and we are in the process of getting together,’ she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
She said: ‘First generation migrants continue to be looked down on because of our lack of proximity to the British society.
‘It’s all cool and well if your grandmother is Polish but Dionysus forbid you actually have a lived experience!’
After one person pointed out that cast member Sophie Maria-Wonja is Polish, she added: ‘Polish British I think which is absolutely brilliant but as you pointed out the lack of proper representation is concerning.’
The Equity Race Equality Committee said it is ‘concerned and saddened’ to hear about the ‘lack of Polish heritage involvement in both the cast and creative team.’
West End actor Irvine Iqbal, who last year criticised the all-white cast of a Liverpool production of pantomime Aladdin, said that theatres have a ‘duty of care’ not to ‘marginalise communities.’
He wrote: ‘Theatre has a duty of care not to marginalise communities but to bring people together through creative and collaborative work practice!’
Despite the criticism, some people were quick to point out that actors shouldn’t have to have lived experience of their character’s life in order to play a role.
Actor Daniel MacAlistair Gott said: ‘Because only Polish people can tell stories about Poland? Highlighting everything wrong with the sector here.
Tomasz Kot as Wiktor and Agata Kulesza as Irena in the ‘Cold War’ Film
Set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, the film depicts an impossible love story in impossible times
‘Where does the buck stop? How many Polish people have to be involved for it not to concern you?’
Actor Alex Roscoe Thomas said that, as an actor whose mother was born in Britain to Polish parents, making him half Polish ‘by blood,’ he feared he’d ‘be seen as not “Polish” enough to be involved in a show such as this.’
He wrote: ‘As an actor who’s mum was born to two Polish parents but in Britain, I am, by blood, half Polish.
‘I am proud of my heritage, want to honour my family and celebrate where we have come from, but fear I’d be seen as not “Polish” enough to be involved in a show such as this.’
Ms Domaradzka responded: ‘No, that’s not what we are advocating here for.
‘Full representation can mean variety of experiences. There are Polish British people in this but I believe the richness of this particular story comes from lived experiences too. Any deeply culturally specific work requires ethics.’
A spokesman for the Almeida said: ‘There are members of both the cast and creative team with Polish heritage.’
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