A Holocaust-themed production of Romeo & Juliet forgot about Jewish actors

England's Icarus Theatre Collective recently put out a casting call for a new production of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet that would transplant the star-crossed lovers to the Holocaust. In this version, Hitler Youth member Romeo falls in love with a Jewish girl named Juliet— despite the fact that the opening lines of the play explicitly describe the Capulets and Montagues as two houses being both alike in dignity, which is an interesting way to "both-sides" frame the relationship between the Nazis and the Jews whom they oppressed and genocided.

This was the company's official description of the play:

In defiance of their entire society and in secrecy from their closest friends, hopeful young lives burn amidst a cataclysmic backdrop of impending war and the horror of the Holocaust. Sun and moon shine down on star-crossed lovers as a Jewish girl falls for a member of (Hitler) Youth and the boy questions everything he was taught to believe.

In a nod towards inclusivity, the company released a casting call in search of "non-binary artists, and/or those of global majority, black or Asian heritage" to join the production. It specifically called out both Romeo and Mercutio as being roles that would be open to non-binary performers; the company was also looking to cast a female-presenting performer in the role of Tybalt, Juliet's hot-headed cousin.

This is all seems good and well, except for the part where the company neglected to include any Jewish performers in their casting search. For a play about the Holocaust. In which half of the cast, including one of the two main characters, is supposed to be Jewish.


For what it's worth, the theatre company's Artistic Director, Max Lewendel — who was also directing this production of Romeo & Juliet — is himself Jewish. Does that make it all okay, or is there a lot more to unpack there? Your mileage may vary.

Either way, the company has since apologized, and in fact cancelled the production entirely.

This may strike some people as an extreme choice, or "cancel culture run amok," or what-have-you. The Telegraph specifically called out the non-binary casting details in its headline about the show, passive-aggressively suggesting that this was a mock-worthy issue of more foolish "woke-ness."(Frankly, the gender assignment language in the casting call is fairly common for the theatre industry). But even if the company did put out a new casting call that was inclusive of Jewish performers, there still be the awkward both-sides Holocaust-denial angle of the Nazis and the Jews being "two houses, both alike in dignity." That's a harder fix. Enemies becoming lovers is very, very different from an oppressor falling in love with a member of the group they oppressed.

'Non-binary' Romeo and Juliet set in Nazi Germany apologises for omitting Jews from casting call [Craig Simpson / The Telegraph]